Too Many Choices: Navigating complex information

100 slide PPT decks.
Web pages with 100 links on a single page.
Blogrolls with 75 blogs.
A page with hundreds of tags.
An offer in an ad with Offer A, Offer B, and Offer C.

We are inundated with choice and we’ve been trained to believe this is preferable to having less choices. But is this true? When we design web architecture, for example, we’re often reworking sites that have been around for years. They have had pages and links added here and there, over time, by a variety of people with a variety of skills. Often the original vision, if there was one, has been lost. The result is an improbable confusion of choices and a greatly increased likelihood that the visitor will bail out rather than wade into the information quagmire. So how do you fix this?

Who hasn’t presented PowerPoint decks that are too long? After all, we have a lot of valuable input, strategic insight and industry knowledge. Shouldn’t we make sure we deliver all of it?

I can go on, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear in the design world: With a bewildering number of choices everywhere we turn, it has become vital that we get better at delivering information, at the level of complexity that is appropriate for the circumstances.

So we find a way to parse the choices, create hierarchies and sub-groups and only display the top levels. If it’s a web site the vistor can select their category and dig as far as they want. If it’s a presentation, present the top level ideas and let the discussion take you to the details. Know your strategy and use it as a tool, not a report.

As marketers and advertising creators, we are partially responsible for the thousands of messages each of us is exposed to daily. These numbers will only rise. To stand out and deliver an extremely compelling message we need to become experts at simplification and information design.

Here’s PresentationZen on too much choice (watch the video if you can find a few minutes- it’s enlightening to say the least- 175 salad dressing choices!).
Guy Kawasaki on PPT (ten slides, max)

Video, Flash and 160mph winds

LivesConnectedAs an internal experiment in data organization and flash and video integration, a fellow AAAA member, Peter Mayer Advertising, located in New Orleans, LA, developed an interview-style video journal website documenting the experiences of every single one of their 44 employees during the disastrous hurricane season of 2005. The project titled LivesConnected has garnered heavy attention after having been recently featured in the site of the week section of

What’s particularly interesting about this project and what makes it worth writing about is the extent to which the video content is cross-referenced and cross-pollinated. Not only can the site’s visitors browse interview clips by employee names, which are presented upon entering the site in a simple capital-X-shaped interface, but they can also select from a list of tags associated with each clip and watch other people discuss similar topics. For example, if you’re watching Jennifer B. talk about how she felt as Lake Pontchartrain burst into her living room, and you suddenly wonder what some of the other employees’ reactions to the swift-rising flood waters were, you can select from several people whose clip shares the “Flooded Home” tag and immediately skip to that portion of their interview. Kind of like a blog works.

None of the technical aspects of the site are that difficult to wrap your head around, but nonetheless, it’s a highly sophisticated example of combining video, flash and the partial functionality of a blog to offer up insight into the lives and personalities of a company’s employees. I suggest you check it out.

Don't Drink the Water: NIN's amazing viral campaign

Want a glimpse of the future of marketing?
An example of how entertainment and commerce will be indistinguishable?
The next level of gameplaying, puzzlement and conspiracy theory?

Nine Inch Nails unleashed the most compelling viral marketing campaign yet for their new album, Year Zero. Rolling Stone has a great overview.
It will be interesting to see how many lame imitations this will inspire…and great extensions!

Google Conversion University

There’s a huge amount of info on the various Google sites but finding it is often problematic- they really don’t have an overall portal page for all of their content and products so you have to dig around to find things. This is ironic given that they are the primary search provider (currently estimated at around 75% of all searches). Today I found this treasure trove of articles on optimization utilizing Google Analytics, their free and very powerful web metrics software.
There’s a lot of information here on ways any online business can increase traffic, measure ROI for various activities including SEO, SEM, email campaigns, etc.
By the way if you’re not familiar with the meaning of ‘conversion’ in a web marketing context it means having a visitor take a pre-defined action as a result of your marketing. For example, if you’re selling products with an ecommerce store you can track which Google ad generated a specific sale using conversion tracking. You simply attach a code Google provides to the web address (URL) in the ad. When a buyer clicks that ad Google tracks their path through your site. If they hit a specified page (for example a page that says “Thank You for Buying With XYZ Co.”) a conversion is counted. In this example, you can track the sales of individual products by SKU (stock keeping unit) to determine which ad copy and offer triggered the most sales. This gives marketers the holy grail of marketing: knowing exactly what the ROI is for an ad buy. Once you know you’re making money you can spend more to make more, a beautiful thing. And BTW, that’s why Google has $12 billion in cash sitting around right now.

First Post: Crossing the Chasm

Day one of a blog doesn’t mean much but you have to start somewhere. In my own experience blogging really doesn’t gain momentum until you reach a certain volume of quality posts. Here at Martino Flynn we’ve got sixty plus creative voices, all of whom are invited to blog at will. As an ad agency we’re working our way across the chasm created between by the web and watching as technology gets closer and closer to creative.

In an ideal world technology would be invisible- it would simply work behind the scenes making life better and easier. Unfortunately technology has been historically created by technologists (engineers, scientists, programmers) which has meant that the average person’s experience with technology is overly complex. It has been the same thing in the advertising and marketing world: Digital media was associated with technology and digital agencies handled it. Traditional agencies were associated with creative (design and writing, branding and awareness). This set up a disconnect as a client had technologists building their online presence and creatives doing everything offline. The result was the continuation of technology being separated from creativity. That had to change and it has.

Here at Martino Flynn we’re working to use technology behind the scenes to change the way we work and change the way our clients connect with their customers. We don’t see any divide between offline and online marketing, in fact it’s clear that they have to complement each other. After all, don’t we all check out the web site of any interesting company we hear about? Shouldn’t that web site, the search that helped us find it, the way we heard about it and the way we utilize it all work together?
That’s the question we’re asking across the agency these days.

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