Long live long form

Long form content

With every cyclical web trend, there’s an equal and opposite re-trend. The latest: publishers, entertainers, and content creators diving full force into long-form content… and mobile and design have a lot to do with it.

Mobile, the heavyweight champion

We often hear people say, “no one would ever want to do that on mobile!” for a variety of reasons and assumptions.

News flash: a rapidly growing percentage of the population uses mobile for nearly their entire internet experience. At An Event Apart Boston, Karen McGrane shared that approximately 31 percent of Americans who use their mobile phones to go online only or mostly access the internet from their phones.

In other words, internet and mobile go hand-in-hand, and for these users, they expect a full web experience on their version of the internet – a mobile device.

Part of that full web experience moves away from the immediacy of mobile and the necessity for short bursts of information. Many mobile users rely on their device to read books, watch movies, and engage in other time-intensive activities. Long-form content can and will have a place on mobile. “There’s no such thing as ‘how to write for mobile,'” says McGrane. “There’s just good writing.”

Beautiful examples

When content developers and designers work together, beautiful long-form designs emerge. Much like a magazine feature, these long-form pieces of content utilize layout and visuals to enhance the story. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Trent Walton: The founder of Paravel, Trent’s blog posts utilize small illustrations and basic art direction to enhance his content. Even simple implementations of design can help with long-form posts.
  • The Dissolve: A new film web site from Pitchfork. President Chris Kaskie says “At the end of the day, our goal will be to redefine how people read long-form magazine publications on the Internet.” Keep an eye on this one!

HB and long-form content

In the coming months, we’ll launch a new section on www.hbagency.com, called “Features.” We’ll use our typical blog topics but give special attention to longer pieces of content that warrant a unique look. We’ll start with custom art and typography with sights set on immersive experiences including video. We’re in this for the long run.

Apple's Presser: The Morning After

It’s no coincidence that Apple held its press event on a Friday. Anyone who has ever worked near politics will tell you that you drop a story on a Friday when you want it to die. It’s an age-old trick. Even better, make it a summer Friday when all the editors are eager to start their weekends and people are less likely to be reading, watching and following the news on a Saturday.

So holding the event on a Friday at 10am PT (afternoon here on the east coast) was Apple’s first great PR move in regards to “Antennagate.” But oh, there were so many more.

The Song: Perhaps the best move was opening the press conference with a song that had gone viral thanks to a YouTube video and a bit of help from TechCrunch. It showed, up front, the key message Apple was trying to convey: our customers are happy, media are not. Of course, it also helped that TechCrunch promoted the video, so they felt good about themselves. Hold onto that fact, it’ll come back later.

The Facts: Fact 1 is that Apple has facts and the media don’t. Seems kinda obvious now, but it’s difficult for people to argue for a recall when Apple can turn around and say that only .55 percent of people have complained about the antenna and the iPhone 4.0 has only a 1.7 percent return rate, far below that of the 3GS. Apple probably would have released these numbers over time, but Friday’s event certainly gave them a bigger stage. Fact 2: All smartphones have the same kind of problems. This is probably the fact that will be most debated in the coming weeks, but it also turns the attention from the iPhone to the entire industry.

No Apologies: When Steve Jobs walks on stage you’re not going to get an apology. No way, ain’t gonna happen. He’s there for good news and to tell you that the company is producing great things. He’s not there to apologize. If you want that then you’re going to have to speak with someone else. Still, he did admit that Apple isn’t perfect, then positioned that in the age old “we strive to be better” message. That, of course, lead directly into the next positive.

Feel the Love: Oh how Apple customers love Apple. Even Michael Arrington is a fanboy. And Steve Jobs positioned everything perfectly, giving the press-conference equivalent of Paul McCartney standing on stage screaming to a loud fan “I love you too!”

Just one more thing: The iPhone will be available in white at the end of July. So I’m sure there are plenty of people ready to scream “shut up and take my money!”

Of course, not everything was perfect, but I have only one real criticism: Did Steve Jobs really have to spit in the eye of the media? He called a Bloomberg story “total bullshit,” and called the New York Times liars by saying that their story about a forthcoming software bug fix was “patently false.” Of course, the whole event was there to show how the Consumer Reports story wasn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, so I guess Apple did want to stick a thumb in the eye of the media. Though, starting with the Antenna Song certainly endeared Apple more to TechCrunch. So maybe Jobs is just playing to a specific audience.

The iPhone 4: PR Problem or Feature?

When my iPhone 3GS drops a call I blame AT&T. It never occurred to me to blame Apple. Why would I? They designed a beautiful device that does so much more than make calls! Though, the Wall Street Journal suggests that I should, in fact, blame Apple. An article today notes that Apple not only knew about the iPhone 4.0 antenna issues, but also knew that it had issues with the antenna in earlier phones, including the 3GS.

In a piece on Digits, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries lists 5 things Apple should do today to make amends with its customers, including apologize and offer both temporary and permanent fixes.

But all this assumes that the antenna issue is an actual problem.

“But Chuck,” you say. “How is this not a problem? Of course it’s a problem!”

Well, it sort of is, but it sort of isn’t. An iPhone 4.0 user said to me, after reading my last post, that the antenna issue is well overblown. Then he added “and the battery life is incredible!” The sarcastic side of me thinks “if you can’t make calls that battery will probably last forever.”

But the point is, he’s willing to overlook the antenna so he can use the other features of the phone, provided it offers a lot more. And we all know how great Steve Jobs is at offering “one more thing.”

That’s sort of what’s behind the blog post by Antonio Rodriguez, in which he points out that the antenna’s internal design allows for a symmetry that will come into play later, possibly in the form of an active secondary touch surface on the back of the phone.

So is this a design flaw or a feature? We’ll find out more today.

Foursquare: And the Big Monetization Idea is…. Coupons!

Today Starbucks and Foursquare announced that he mayor’s of the local Starbucks will get a discount on any Frappucino. Starbucks had previously worked with Foursquare to create a “Barista” badge for people who checked into multiple Starbucks stores.

All of this is interesting, but really it’s just coupons. When a Mayor checks into their local Starbucks they’ll be offered $1 off a Frappucino. It’s just like any other loyalty program that rewards frequent users.

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite good. When people ask me about “social media” they’re often looking for new and different ideas. In reality, social media is really about having new and updated channels for established (and effective) concepts. Every marketer knows that it’s easier to upsell a current customer than it is to create new customers, so if you can turn a standard cup of coffee into a $4 coffee shake, it’s a better way to go. Offering a coupon does just that, whether it’s something you print out from the website or something you get on your smartphone via Foursquare.

What Foursquare offers is an easy way to know when the most loyal customers are in the store and upsell them automatically. There-in lies the difference.You no longer have to print thousands of coupons and stick them in the local paper just to get a small return. You can target those customers you want to reach.

Will this work for everyone? I’m not sure. Smaller brands have offered location-based coupons through Foursquare, so if you check in near a store a coupon pops up to drive you in. You usually see these in bigger cities, like New York, where Foursquare has more traffic. I doubt anyone is going to drive 20 minutes for a coupon, but a person may walk a block out of their way on a hot day to pick up some frozen yogurt.

But in thinking about my favorite coffee bar in Newton, the owner Nik knows most of his best customers (as do his employees). Plus, he has stamped cards that people keep by the register to get a $2 off a drink with each 10 they purchase. Does he need to work with Foursquare for a loyalty program? Maybe not, though, he could use Foursquare as part of his social media campaign and to drive new traffic.

I could see him running a guerrilla campaign, so anyone who checks into the Starbucks around the corner gets a coupon for a $1 off of a coffee to drive them into Taste (and to know what good coffee tastes like), but would Foursquare sell such a thing? I imagine it would annoy a big advertiser.

So when you look at social media campaigns don’t throw out good, established concepts just because they are old. Think about how you can use them in new forms.

Mary Meeker's Mobile Musings

I love the excitement just before a big change. It’s like those butterflies you had as a kid before the first day of school, or the night before a big vacation. It’s that feeling that says “something exciting and cool is about to happen.”

I feel that now and it’s all about mobile.

Mary Meeker’s presentation at the Web 2.0 summit (below) has a lot of people making blanket statements about the mobile industry. Yes, the growth of mobile is huge and yes location based services are about to change everything. But what does that really mean?

For marketers it’s a channel that’s about to open. Today we all talk about social media and content, we develop strategies for using Facebook, Twitter, blogs, videos, podcasts and all sorts of desktop-based strategies.

But if you’re in retail, how are you using tools like Foursquare? How will you deal with the location information that Twitter is about to unleash on your business? What will you do with that information? Should you develop a mobile application to deliver information to your users? What devices are used most by your audience?

I often I read the New York Times on my iPhone, changing the format changes how I interact with the information. I read stories in a different order and I’m not as driven by pictures. I’m also more likely to check the “popular” stories, as that is one of a few buttons I’m given on my application.

Changing the format impacts your customers too.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Presentation 2009

Making Money in Mobile

Last night’s Mobile Monday event seemed to have it all: a downtown location (The Place); free food and alcohol (one drink per person) a great topic (Making the Mobile Money Flow) and a great group of panelists.

But something about it didn’t completely work. The Place, while a great bar, did not lend itself to good networking. The 300 or so attendees packed in, shoulder to shoulder, with little ability to move through the room. Unlike other Mobile Monday venues, which tend to be in ballrooms, this one fell short.

The packed bar at Mobile Monday

The packed bar at Mobile Monday

The panel also showed a lot of promise. It included Moderator Todd Hixon, founder and managing partner at New Atlantic Ventures and panelists Doug Hurd of uLocate Communications (creators of the WHERE app, one of my personal favorites); Steve Krom, VP & GM of AT&T Mobility, New England Region; Mike Kirkup, of RIM; and Eric Weinberg of DeviceAnywhere. But over the hour of discussion I felt little new was offered to the target audience: developers who know that monetization strategies are few and far between.

Granted, the topic of how to make money in the new mobile application environment is a tough nut to crack in just one hour, but the group did their best. One of the best pieces of advice came from Hurd, who noted that creating a mobile company takes time, don’t expect to create a viable company overnight or based just on one application.

Related to that was the advice to the developers in the room to decide if they wanted to be an application or a mobile company. Mobile companies, it was noted, have multiple revenue sources, while and application has a single revenue  source.

Much was made of the recent announcement that Apple will allow in-app purchases, leading the panelists to point out that developers will need to find ways to up-sell consumers through items like additional content or personalization features within free applications. Of course, for many this will create a “try before you buy” system.

The panel did point out something that should be music to the ears of Localytics: developers need to pay more attention to what works (and what doesn’t) within their applications. As someone pointed out, 90 percent of applications loaded are not used in the first 30 days. If the strategy is to make money within an application (as opposed to just at the pont of purchase), then understanding how and when people use it will be a necessary component.

The problem with all of this is that for application developers the talk isn’t new. Talk to anyone developing iPhone applications (and most mobile developers create primarily for the iPhone, as it’s the most vibrant application store) and they’ll point out that selling an application nets almost no money. Even if someone manages to find your application amid the 85,000 or so in the app store, then decides to spend the 99¢ on it, Apple takes 30 percent. You have to sell a lot of one-off  applications at 70¢ per in order to make back your development costs.

One piece of advice that works for us here at Fresh Ground, however, is that developers need to do a better job of marketing their applications. Just creating one and getting approved by Apple isn’t enough, you need to encourage reviews, create  online content, do a lot of search engine optimization and, in general, create buzz.

Other than that, the advice from the panelists seemed pretty generic. Steve Krom encouraged developers to look beyond the app store and develop for the carriers. Frankly, it seemed like an old message and one that few developers really want to hear. The recent trend is away from carriers, not toward them.

RIM also touted its own app store, which takes less of a cut than Apple, but with so many different devices I’ve heard developers say that creating for RIM (and Android) has expensive logistical problems. An application that runs on one device won’t run on another, a problem they don’t face when developing for the iPhone.

In short, I’ll still be at the next Mobile Monday event, but I’m hoping we go back to a large conference room. Though, I still appreciate the free booze.