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More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery




More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

Kyle Cassidy



As designers, we know that research should play a pivotal role in any design process. Sadly, however, there are still a lot of organizations that do not see the value of research and would rather jump straight into the visual design stage of the design process.

The excuses given here tend to be:

“We already know what our customers want.”

“We don’t have the time/budget/people.”

“We’ll figure out the flaws in BETA.”

As designers, it is important that we are equipped to be able to have conversations with senior stakeholders to be able to sell and justify the importance of the so-called “Design Discovery” within the design process.

In this article, I’ll demystify what is meant by the term “Design Discovery” to help you better establish the importance of research within the creative process. I’ll also be giving advice on how to handle common pushbacks, along with providing various hints and tips on how to select the best research methods when undertaking user research.

My hope is that by reading this article, you will become comfortable with being able to sell “Design Discovery” as part of the creative process. You will know how to build a “Discovery Plan” of activities that answers all the questions you and your client need to initiate the design process with a clear purpose and direction.

Design With A Purpose

Digital design is not just about opening up Photoshop or Sketch and adding colors, shapes, textures, and animation to make a beautiful looking website or app.

As designers, before putting any pixels on canvas, we should have a solid understanding of:

  1. Who are the users we are designing for?
  2. What are the key tasks those users want to accomplish?

Ask yourself, is the purpose of what you are producing? Is it to help users:

  • Conduct research,
  • Find information,
  • Save time,
  • Track fitness,
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle,
  • Feel safe,
  • Organize schedules,
  • Source goods,
  • Purchase products,
  • Gather ideas,
  • Manage finances,
  • Communicate,
  • Or something entirely different?

Understanding the answers to these questions should inform your design decisions. But before we design, we need to do some research.

Discovery Phase

Any design process worth its salt should start with a period of research, which (in agency terms) is often referred to as a “Discovery Phase”. The time and budget designers can allocate to a Discovery phase is determined by many factors such as the amount of the client’s existing project research and documentation as well as the client’s budget. Not to mention your own personal context, which we will come to later.

Business And User Goals

In a Discovery phase, we should ensure adequate time is dedicated to exploring both business and user goals.

Yes, we design experiences for users, but ultimately we produce our designs for clients (be that internal or external), too. Clients are the gatekeepers to what we design. They have the ultimate say over the project and they are the ones that hold the purse strings. Clients will have their own goals they want to achieve from a project and these do not always align with the users’ goals.

In order to ensure what we design throughout our design process hits the sweet spot, we need to make sure that we are spending time exploring both the business and user goals for the project (in the Research/Discovery phase).


business and user goals


Your Discovery phase should explore both user and business goals. (Large preview)

Uncovering Business Goals

Typically, the quickest way to establish the business goals for a project is to host a stakeholder workshop with key project stakeholders. Your aim should be to get as many representatives from across different business functions as possible into one room to discuss the vision for the project (Marketing, Finance, Digital, Customer Services, and Sales).

Tip: Large organizations often tend to operate in organizational silos. This allows teams to focus on their core function such as marketing, customer care, etc. It allows staff to be effective without being distracted by activities where they have no knowledge and little or no skills. However, it often becomes a problem when the teams don’t have a singular vision/mission from leadership, and they begin to see their area as the driving force behind the company’s success. Often in these situations, cross-departmental communication can be poor to non-existent. By bringing different members from across the organization together in one room, you get to the source of the truth quicker and can link together internal business processes and ways of working.

The core purpose of the stakeholder workshop should be:

  1. To uncover the Current State (explore what exists today in terms of people, processes, systems, and tools);
  2. To define the Desired Future State (understand where the client wants to get to, i.e. their understandig of what the ideal state should look like);
  3. To align all stakeholders on the Vision for the project.

project vision


Use workshops to align stakeholders around the vision and define the Desired Future State. (Large preview)

There are a series of activities that you can employ within your stakeholder workshop. I tend to typically build a full workshop day (7-8 hours) around 4-5 activities allowing 45mins uptil 1 hour for lunch and two 15-min coffee breaks between exercises. Any more that than, and I find energy levels start to dwindle.

I will vary the workshop activities I do around the nature of the project. However, each workshop I lead tends to include the following three core activities:

Activity Purpose
Business Model Canvas To explore the organizations business model and discuss where this project fits this model.
Measurement Plan Define what are the most important business metrics the business wants to be able to measure and report on.
Proto Personas and User Stories Explore who the business feels their users are and what are the key user stories we need to deliver against.

Tip: If you’re new to delivering client workshops, I’ve added a list of recommended reading to the references section at the bottom of this article which will give you useful ideas on workshop activities, materials, and group sizes.

Following the workshop, you’ll need to produce a write up of what happened in the workshop itself. It also helps to take lots of photos on the workshop day. The purpose of the write-up should be to not only explain the purpose of the day and key findings, but also recommendations of next steps. Write-ups can be especially helpful for internal communication within the organization and bringing non-attendees up to speed with what happened on the day as well as agreeing on the next steps for the project.

Uncovering User Goals

Of course, Discovery is not just about understanding what the organization wants. We need to validate what users actually want and need.

With the business goals defined, you can then move on to explore the user goals through conducting some user research. There are many different user research methods you can employ throughout the Discovery process from Customer Interviews and Heuristic Evaluations to Usability Tests and Competitor Reviews, and more.

Having a clear idea of the questions you are looking to answer and available budget is the key to helping select the right research methods. It is, for this reason, important that you have a good idea of what these are before you get to this point.

Before you start to select which are the best user research methods to employ, step back and ask yourself the following question:

“What are the questions I/we as a design team need answers to?”

For example, do you want to understand:

  • How many users are interacting with the current product?
  • How do users think your product compares to a competitor product?
  • What are the most common friction points within the current product?
  • How is the current product’s performance measured?
  • Do users struggle to find certain key pieces of information?

Grab a pen and write down what you want to achieve from your research in a list.

Tip: If you know you are going to be working on a fixed/tight budget, it is important to get confirmation on what that budget may look like at this point since this will have some bearing on the research methods you choose.

Another tip: User research does not have to happen after organizational research. I always find it helps to do some exploratory research prior to running stakeholder workshops. This ensures you go into the room with a baseline understanding of the organization its users and some common pain points. Some customers may not know what users do on their websites/apps nowadays; I like to go in prepared with some research to hand whether that be User Testing, Analytics Review or Tree Testing outputs.

Selecting Research Methods

The map below from the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) shows an overview of 20 popular user research methods plotted on a 3-dimensional framework. It can provide a useful guide for helping you narrow down on a set of research methods to use.


top 20 research methods


A map of the top 20 research methods from NNG. (Large preview)

The diagram may look complicated, but let us break down some key terms.

Along the x-axis, research methods are separated by the types of data they produce.

  • Quantitative data involves numbers and figures. It is great for answering questions such as:

    • How much?
    • How many?
    • How long?
    • Impact tracking?
    • Benchmarking?
  • Qualitative data involves quote, observations, photos, videos, and notes.

    • What do users think?
    • How do users feel?
    • Why do users behave in a certain way?
    • What are users like?
    • What frustrates users?

Along the y-axis, research methods are separated by the user inputs.

  • Behavioral Data
    This data is based on what users do (outcomes).
  • Attitudinal Data
    This data is based on attitudes and opinions.

Finally, research methods are also classified by their context. Context explains the nature of the research, some research methods such as interviews require no product at all. Meanwhile, usability tests require users to complete scripted tasks and tell us how they think and feel.

Using the Model

Using your question list, firstly identify whether you are looking to understand users opinions (what people say) or actions (what people do) and secondly whether you are looking to understand why they behave in a certain way (why and how to fix) or how many of them are behaving in a certain way (how many and how much).

Now look at this simplified version of the matrix, and you should be able to work out which user research methods to focus in on.


selecting research methods


Think about what questions you’re trying to answer when selecting research methods. (Large preview)

Model Examples

Example 1

If you’re looking to understand users’ attitudes and beliefs and you don’t have a working product then ‘Focus Groups’ or ‘Interviews’ would be suitable user research methods.


top 20 research methods


Large preview

Example 2

If you want to understand how many users are interacting with the current website or app then an ‘Analytics Review’ would be the right research method to adopt. Meanwhile, if you want to test how many people will be impacted by a change, A/B testing would be a suitable method.


top 20 research methods


Large preview

No Silver Bullet

By now you should realize there is no shortcut to the research process; not one single UX research method will provide all the answers you need for a project.

Analytics reviews, for example, are a great low-cost way to explore behavioral, quantitative data about how users interact with an existing website or application.

However, this data falls short of telling you:

  • Why users visited the site/app in the first place (motivation);
  • What tasks they were looking to accomplish (intent);
  • If users were successful in completing their tasks (task completion);
  • How users found their overall experience (satisfaction).

These types of questions are best answered by other research methods such as ‘Customer Feedback’ surveys (also known as ‘Intercept Surveys’) which are available from tools such as Hotjar, Usabilla, and Qualaroo.


Usabilla


Usabilla’s quick feedback button allows users to provide instant feedback on their experience. (Large preview)

Costing Research/Discovery

In order to build a holistic view of the user experience, the Research/Discovery process should typically last around 3 to 4 weeks and combine a combination of the different research methods.

Use your list of questions and the NNG matrix to help you decide on the most suitable research methods for your project. Wherever possible, try to use complimentary research methods to build a bigger picture of users motivations, drivers, and behaviors.


four research methods


Your Design Discovery process should combine different types of data. (Large preview)

Tip: The UX Recipe tool is a great website for helping you pull together the different research methods you feel you need for a project and to calculate the cost of doing so.

Which brings me on to my next point.

Contexts And Budgets

The time and budget which you can allocate to Discovery will vary greatly depending on your role. Are you working in-house, freelance, or in an agency? Some typical scenarios are as follows:

  • Agency
    Clients employ agencies to build projects that generate the right results. To get the right results, you firstly need to ensure you understand both the business’ needs and the needs of the users as these are almost always not the same. Agencies almost always start with a detailed Discovery phase often led by the UX Design team. Budgets are generally included in the cost of the total project, as such ample time is available for research.
  • In-House: Large Company
    When working in a large company, you are likely to already have a suite of tools along with a program of activity you’re using to measure the customer experience. Secondly, you are likely to be working alongside colleagues with specialist skills such as Data Analysts, Market Researchers, and even a Content Team. Do not be afraid to say hello to these people and see if they will be willing to help you conduct some research. Customer service teams are also worth befriending. Customer service teams are the front line of a business where customer problems are aired for all to see. They can be a goldmine of useful information. Go spend some time with the team, listen to customer service calls, and review call/chat logs.
  • In-House: Smaller Company
    When working as part of an in-house team in a smaller company, you are likely to be working on a tight budget and are spread across a lot of activities. Nevertheless, with some creative thinking, you can still undertake some low-cost research tasks such as Site Intercept surveys, Analytics reviews, and Guerilla testing, or simply review applied research.
  • Freelance
    When working freelance, your client often seeks you out with a very fixed budget, timeline and set of deliverables in mind, i.e. “We need a new Logo” or “We need a landing page design.” Selling Discovery as part of the process can often be a challenge freelancers typically undertake since they mostly end up using their own time and even working overtime. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Clients can be willing to spend their time in the Discovery pre-project phase. However, you need to be confident to be able to sell yourself and defend your process. This video has some excellent tips on how to sell Discovery to clients as a freelancer.

Selling Design Discovery

As you can see from the above, selling Design Discovery can be a challenge depending on your context. It’s much harder to sell Design Discovery when working as a freelancer than it is working within an agency.

Some of the most commons excuses organizations put forward for discounting the research process are:

“We don’t have the budget.”

“We’ll find it out in BETA.”

“We don’t have time.”

“We already know what users want.”

When selling Design Discovery and combating these points of view, remember these key things:

It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Research does not have to be costly especially with all of the tools and resources we have available today. You can conduct a Guerilla User Testing session for the price of a basic coffee. Furthermore, you can often source willing participants from website intercepts, forums or social media groups who are more than willing to help.

It’s much harder to fix later.

The findings that come as an output from research can be invaluable. It is much more cost and time effective to spend some of the project budgets up front to ensure there are no assumptions and blind spots than it is to course correct later on if the project has shifted off tangent. Uncovering blockers or significant pain points later into the project can be a huge drain on time as well as monetary resources.

Organizational views can often be biased.

Within large organizations especially, a view of ‘what users want’ is often shaped by senior managers’ thoughts and opinions rather than any applied user research. These viewpoints then cascade down to more junior members of the team who start to adopt the same viewpoints. Validating these opinions are actually correct viewpoints is essential.

There are other cross-company benefits.

Furthermore, a Discovery process also brings with it internal benefits. By bringing members from other business functions together and setting a clear direction for the project, you should win advocates for the project across many business functions. Everyone should leave the room with a clear understanding of what the project is, its vision, and the problems you are trying to fix. This helps to alleviate an enormous amount of uncertainty within the organization.

I like to best explain the purpose of the discovery phase by using my adaptation of the Design Squiggle by Damien Newman:

See how the Discovery phase allows us time to tackle the most uncertainty?


Design Squiggle by Damien Newman


An adaptation of the Design Squiggle by Damien Newman showing how uncertainty is reduced in projects over time. (Large preview)

Waterfall And Agile

A Discovery phase can be integrated into both Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies.

In Waterfall projects, the Discovery phase happens at the very start of the project and can typically run for 4 to 12 weeks depending on the size of the project, the number of interdependent systems, and the areas which need to be explored.

In Agile projects, you may run a Discovery phase upfront to outline the purpose for the project and interconnect systems along with mini 1 to 2-week discovery process at the start of each sprint to gather the information you need to build out a feature.


waterfall and agile discovery


Discovery process can be easily incorporated into both waterfall and agile projects. (Large preview)

Final Thoughts

The next time you start on any digital project:

  • Make sure you allow time for a Discovery phase at the start of your project to define both business and user goals, and to set a clear vision that sets a clear purpose and direction for the project to all stakeholders.

  • Be sure to run a Stakeholder workshop with representatives from a variety of different business functions across the business (Marketing, Finance, Digital, Customer Services, Sales).

  • Before selecting which user research methods to use on your project, write down a list of questions you wish to understand and get a budget defined. From there, you can use the NNG matrix to help you understand what the best tool to use is.

Further Reading

If you found this article interesting, here is some recommended further reading:

Workshop Books

If you are interested in running Stakeholder workshops, I’d highly recommend reading the following books. Not only will they give you useful hints and tips on how to run workshops, they’re packed full of different workshop exercises to help you get answers to specific questions.

Smashing Editorial
(cc, ra, yk, il)


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More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

Responsive And Fluid Typography With vh And vw Units

Embracing fluid typography might be easier than you think. It has wide browser support, is simple to implement and can be achieved without losing control over many important aspects of design.
Unlike responsive typography, which changes only at set breakpoints, fluid typography resizes smoothly to match any device width. It is an intuitive option for a web in which we have a practically infinite number of screen sizes to support.

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Responsive And Fluid Typography With vh And vw Units

Finding Inspiration to Write Unbeatable Copy for Landing Pages

Deserted gas station
Image by Pete R. via BucketListly.

Sometimes the well runs dry.

You’re passionate about your business, and you want to create a slam-dunk landing page that introduces your product or service to the world, but the words elude you. Every stab you take at the project sounds dull and trite.

As a copywriter, it’s easy to get stuck in a literary rut. You use the familiar formulas and recipes because they’re safe. However, taking in some outside influence might provide the jumpstart you need to create truly unbeatable copy. Here are nine actionable strategies for finding inspiration.

1. Mine your memories

You might think otherwise when you watch the evening news, but human beings are hardwired for empathy.

Imagine you’re walking down the produce aisle at the supermarket and the woman in front of you slips on a puddle of spilled apple juice. Her feet fly out from under her, and she falls to the unforgiving tile floor.

Jennifer Lawrence fall

How do you respond? You cringe — either inwardly or outwardly. You imagine the pain of the impact. Maybe you even recall a time when you took a similarly spectacular fall.

It’s all because of mirror neurons, according to the American Psychological Association. When you witness an event, you put yourself in the place of the person to whom it’s happening.

This phenomenon happens with good things, too. If you witness an act of generosity, you feel gratitude on behalf of the recipient. When your best friend wins an award, you feel pride and a sense of accomplishment.

This is why your own memories provide endless inspiration for your copywriting efforts.

You create a landing page to show potential customers or clients how you can solve their problems or make their lives better. If you want to reach those readers on a visceral level, you have to tap into their emotions.


If you want to reach your readers on a visceral level, you have to tap into their emotions.
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Since humans are empathetic creatures, it’s easy to connect your own lived experiences with the challenges your audience members face. Think about why you started your business and how it influences your life.

For example, let’s say you’re marketing a financial advisement plan. You might use your own biography as a way to connect with your audience on your landing page:

I graduated college with $145,000 in debt. Some from student loans, and some from the ill-advised credit card purchases that young and stupid college students are wont to talk themselves into.

Then I realized I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years paying it all off. So I made a plan. It worked for me, and I guarantee it’ll work for you, too.

Drawing on your personal experiences can help you make connections with your readers. If they see themselves in your story, they’re that much closer to following the directive in your call to action.

2. Skim your social media feed

Parks and Rec social media

Here’s some good news: Twitter and Facebook and other social media platforms aren’t just for procrastination. They can also offer inspiration for landing pages.

A social media feed reveals conversations that are occurring in real-time. What could be more relevant to your brand message? Social media streams can inspire you with an insightful quote, a mention of a relatively new problem or a delightful turn of phrase.

Spend some time sorting through the latest conversations. Look for patterns and trending topics.

More importantly, pay attention to the language. How do the heavy hitters in social media land phrase their thoughts and ideas? The limited space on social media forces people to express themselves succinctly, and word economy is a copywriter’s most valuable tool.

Figure out how social media mavens condense their virtual speech while still getting across their meaning.

3. Flip through first lines

Belle books

Have you ever pulled a book off the shelf at the store, cracked it open, read the first line and immediately headed for the cash register?

First lines mean everything — in fiction and on landing pages. Both novelists and copywriters have to get it right every time, so the bookshelves in your living room offer plenty of inspiration.

In fact, first lines are so impactful that the American Book Review publishes a list of the 100 best first lines of all time. Give them a read when you get stuck.

You’ll notice that, when novelists nail a first line, you can immediately identify their intention. A suspense author might start a book with a foreboding or ominous statement, while a romance writer might begin a book with hearts-and-flowers imagery.

As a copywriter, you have to identify your intentions, too. Decide whether you want to push a pain point, make an emotional connection or provide a safety net for your reader. Then craft a first line that backs up your intention.

4. Set up a story

Speaking of stories, there’s a reason why screenwriters, novelists and other storytellers follow the same three-act structure — because it works.

Your landing page can also contain the three-act structure:

  • Start with a compelling setup. Illustrate the problem your potential customers are experiencing. Hit the pain points and show you empathize with their situation.
  • Create a confrontation. Show your audience what you have to offer. Make it compelling, engaging and believable.
  • End with the climax. Provide your audience with everything they need to write the story ending. This is your call to action.

People don’t like incomplete stories. It’s why you stay up late watching the last episode of your favorite television series and why you can’t put down a book once you reach the last few chapters.

If you need inspiration for your copywriting efforts, turn to books, television shows and movies. Pay attention to the narrative flow and find ways to translate scene sequences to your landing pages.

5. Hoard a host of headlines

Tabloid - mine the headlines

You’re standing in line at the grocery store for 15 minutes, wondering why some people insist on writing checks (yes, some people still do this) when it’s so much faster to swipe a debit card. To curb your boredom and frustration, you shift your attention to the gossip rags displayed behind the cashier.

The tabloids might not enjoy stellar reputations for their incredible journalistic content, but there’s one thing gossip writers do better than anyone else: They write amazing headlines.


There’s 1 thing gossip writers do better than anyone else: write amazing headlines.
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Maybe you’ve even grabbed a tabloid off the rack and tossed it nonchalantly into your shopping cart. Then you read it in the front seat of your car while your ice cream melted in the trunk because you had to find out if the story delivered on the headline’s promise. That’s great copywriting.

If you feel stuck, let tabloid, magazine and periodical headlines inspire you. How do they grab your attention? What verbs and adjectives to they employ?

6. Take in a talk

Public speakers structure their talks much like copywriters structure landing pages. They front-load their speeches with compelling facts, figures and anecdotes, and then spend the remainder of their time on stage offering engaging arguments related to their ideas

Some speakers are more polished than others, but watching a talk (in person or online) can provide endless inspiration for copywriters. Take note of what works and what doesn’t, and then translate your observations to the page.

If you don’t know where to start, check out TED’s list of most popular talks of all time. Speakers like Ken Robinson, Simon Sinek and Brené Brown populate the list.

7. The emotional connection

Emma Stone being emotional

Have you ever picked up a Hallmark card in the middle of the supermarket and burst into tears? Maybe not, but you’ve probably experienced an emotional response to a greeting card’s sentiment. Human beings are hard-wired for emotion, and your viewers are more likely to buy your products or services if they feel connected to them.

Words can inspire emotion, but images accomplish that goal faster and more acutely. For instance, a friend could describe her new puppy to you over the telephone. She could tell you about its floppy ears and super-soft fur, and you might have an emotional reaction. However, if she texted you a photo of the adorable puppy, you’d instantly connect with the image. That’s how the human brain works.


Words can inspire emotion, but images accomplish that goal faster and more acutely.
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Mike Parkinson of Billion Dollar Graphics uses a photo of an infant to illustrate this phenomenon. He points out that certain colors can provoke emotional responses and that the human brain processes imagery faster than it does language.

If you want your viewers to connect emotionally with your landing page, a video offers an effective solution. You can engage your viewers’ emotions through imagery and voiceover dialogue so they understand your product or service viscerally instead of just intellectually.

8. Canvass the competition

Scoping out the competition

Never steal your competition’s words or ideas. That’s a recipe for failure (and a potential legal nightmare). Instead, get to know your competition so you can fill the gaps they leave in their own marketing efforts.

What segment of the target audience does your competition ignore? What features of their products do they leave unsung? What stories do they neglect to tell?

Since you know your industry better than anyone, you have the keenest eye when it comes to evaluating your competition. If you can find untapped resources, consumers or features, you’ll make your copy sing.

9. Kick it with the kids

Kicking it with the kids

You probably don’t need an excuse to spend time with your children, but did you know that your kids can give you inspiration for your copywriting efforts?

Start with their books and movies. Media aimed at children must be simple, concise and thorough, just like landing pages. While you never want to talk down to your audience, you do want to provide them with information that they can understand.

Simple, direct language works for picture books and marketing copy.

Check out your kids’ favorite toys. Look at the products’ design and packaging. American businesses spend up to $17 billion per year marketing products to children, and kids make excellent consumers.

Consequently, products and services geared toward children offer a goldmine of inspiration for marketers and copywriters. They might not have driver’s licenses or credit cards, but kids force businesses to pull out all the stops.

Final thoughts

If you want to create unbeatable copy, look outside the landing page for inspiration. You’ll know a great idea when you see it, and you can mold it to fit your brand’s message, image and features.

Don’t worry if something doesn’t work. The beauty of a landing page is that you can — and should — continuously test it to make sure you are getting the most out of your efforts.

Have you found success with your landing page? Was there something you did that blew away all the other advice out there? Let us know in the comments what you did to turn your beautiful landing page into a lead-driving, conversion machine.


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Finding Inspiration to Write Unbeatable Copy for Landing Pages

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You Cannes Do It! Award-Winning Ideas To Steal For Your Next Campaign

Cover-Cannes
The cool cats of Newcastle Brown Ale’s Cannes Lion-winning campaign.

Looking for creative marketing campaign ideas? What if I told you that there was a literal festival of creativity that celebrated the biggest and best marketing campaigns, and laid their secrets of success?

There is! It is, of course, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. They recently announced the winners for 2015, and with the exception of a few breakout hits like the infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, they are mostly huge in scope with a budget to match.

But you don’t need to lay down millions to run campaigns that are creative and effective.

Great ideas are great ideas, and you can make them work with any budget. So steal these lessons from the Cannes 2015 award winners, and make them a part of your next campaign.

Something for every screen

There used to be just two screens that you could expect to find your audience in front of: their television or their PC. The rise of laptops that could be used anywhere added a wrinkle to this framework, but the domination of mobile completely decimated it.

Because mobile devices can be used in so many places and situations it’s nearly impossible to guess a user’s context and mindset while using one.

The proliferation of mobile has been a sore spot for many traditional advertisers, who have failed to adapt to the new environment. Department store chain John Lewis, whose Christmas advertisements have become a major part of the holidays in the United Kingdom, deserves credit for evolving with the times.

John Lewis’ The Bear and the Hare campaign, launched in Christmas 2013, was ahead of its time even by 2015 standards — as one might hope with a total campaign budget of almost $11 million.

A video breaking down the details of the Bear and the Hare campaign.

The core of the Bear and the Hare campaign was a beautifully animated advertisement, unsurprisingly starring a bear and a hare. There was tie-in merchandise that completely sold out of stores.

One of the campaign’s most distinguishing traits is that it had something for every context — including every screen.

bear-and-the-hare
Image source: iMore

In addition to the advertisements on television (and, of course, YouTube), there were also tightly integrated social media campaigns, a single by Lily Allen, and a narrated ebook for tablets.

All of this ensured that John Lewis could keep fans engaged with its campaign no matter what type of device they were using.


Ensure your campaigns touch every context your audience could be in.
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Give something for (almost) nothing

In a desperate bid to get their hashtags into our tweets, brands constantly ask customers to “share their story.” So clichéd is this call to action that a Tumblr exists solely to mock it.

But these stories are very rarely interesting, and aren’t your real concern; what you’re really after is the awareness generated by someone sharing your campaign with their social circle. So why not merely reward the act of sharing itself?

That’s what Lay’s did with their “Tweet to Eat” campaign, which involved them installing vending machine/video advertisement hybrids at various bus stops in the UK.

The video screens served as a window into a chamber in which British sportscaster Gary Lineker is trapped, alone with his copy of War and Peace, pleading for you to tweet so that he may bestow upon you a complimentary bag of chips.

tweet-to-eat
It’s just a little unsettling.

The participant gets to experience something novel and fun, gets a free bag of chips, and has an incentive to tell all her followers about the campaign. It’s a win for everyone.

This tactic doesn’t only apply to elaborate, physical experiences; you can leverage social sharing as a way to spread word about your gated content, while giving your audience a frictionless way of obtaining it. We’ve even done it on one of our own landing pages:

Tweet-to-Download

Presenting sharing as an option in alternative to something else is a win-win: you get the chance to reach someone who may have been unwilling to offer their email, and they tell their friends about your content, all while making a choice they feel good about.


Offering content in exchange for a tweet helps spread the word and build goodwill.
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Mock the machine

In the internet age, with information flowing freely about all kinds of media, consumers have more awareness than ever about how advertising works and just how often they’re subjected to it. And they’re not super happy about it.

That’s why advertising that acknowledges its inherent inconvenience, or makes light of the advertising machine itself, has been winning the praise of shill-weary consumers.

Geico’s award-winning concept began with one universal truth: everyone hates pre-roll ads.

Even the most ardent marketers skip them, anxious to listen to the latest hot single, watch the news or have their endorphins set ablaze by the latest adorable animal.

So Geico crams the entire ad into those first five, infuriatingly unskippable seconds, and rubs it in your face: “You can’t skip this ad, because it’s already over.” But you know it cannot be so.

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You, humble dot with the red road in your rearview mirror, can see the expanse of grey highway ahead.

This accomplishes what most pre-roll ads could never hope to do: it convinces you to not skip the ad. And it rewards you for doing so, treating you to hilarious scenarios in which the ad’s characters freeze in place, while the world of the advertisement continues unabated around them.

A dog, unhindered by the social decorum of his masters, jumps onto the dining table and devours its bounty. A vacuum races away to an unknown frontier. And, uh, this:

By openly acknowledging the pain of pre-roll ads and delivering something that’s actually worth sticking around for, Geico is able to connect with an audience that would have otherwise rejected them without hesitation.

Mocking the world’s most reviled ad format is one thing, but what about taking on the biggest, most braggadocious advertising event of the year?

Heineken’s Newcastle Brown Ale — a brand whose prime demographic is probably really into the sportsball framed their If We Made It campaign around the absurdity of advertising during the Super Bowl.

Rather than run an ad during the big game, they designed a campaign around the ad they would have made, could they have afforded to. It was complete with summer blockbuster storyboards, scathing focus groups and Academy-award winning actress Anna Kendrick, pretending (or maybe not) to be livid over not appearing in an actual Super Bowl commercial.

They pulsed the snippets out through daily videos during the week leading up to the game, ensuring that the campaign had legs longer than its runtime.

The result is infinitely more memorable than yet another whiz-bang 30-second ad in a sea of whiz-bang 30 seconds ads.


Highlight the absurdity of advertising; there’s nothing your audience could empathize with more.
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Master the art of interception

In addition to producing a genuinely funny campaign, Newcastle also managed to make themselves a part of the Super Bowl advertising conversation without actually having to run a Super Bowl ad.

But that’s not even the craziest story of Super Bowl advertising interception — Volvo managed to leverage their competitor’s advertisements as part of their own campaign.

Volvo wanted to get the word about their new XC60 model, but like Newcastle, couldn’t afford to run a Super Bowl ad of their own. But rather than creating a sprawling, hypothetical campaign, Volvo settled for something much simpler: a hashtag.

Volvo piggy-backed on their competitors’ Super Bowl ads with a simple proposition to the public: tweet #VolvoContest mentioning someone in your life who deserves the new Volvo, and they just might get it.

Except, you can only do it while a car commercial is airing during the big game. In Volvo’s own words, “When Lexus spent $4.5 million for this [Super Bowl ad], Twitter looked like this:”

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The results spoke for themselves: up to 2,000 Tweets per minute, about Volvo, during other car companies’ ads. Awesome for Volvo and #volvocontest, which ended up trending nationally and globally during the #superbowl, and a big “ouch” for everyone else.

While Volvo took advantage of their competitors’ ad spots, it at least came up with its own hashtag. One of the more controversial methods of marketing interception is hashtag-jacking, which means co-opting an already-popular hashtag for your own use.

This is almost universally irritating and in poor taste, but there was at least one organization with a mission worthy of intercepting one of Instagram’s most popular hashtags, #nofilter, which is used when a photo has had no filter applied.

nofilter

This hashtag has been used on Instagram over 131 million times and Waves For Water — an organization whose mission is to get clean water to those in need — co-opted it for their NoFilter initiative.

Their campaign promises to implement one water filter in an area of need for every 1 million #nofilter uses on Instagram. Each filter is capable of producing 1 million gallons of clean water. 1 mention = 1 gallon.

Click here to view the embedded video.

For a cause this important, one is willing to overlook the modest crime of hashtag-jacking.


Draw attention to your campaign by making it a part of a much larger conversation. Tastefully.
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“Context” is more important than “cost”

The shared thread between all of these campaigns?

It wasn’t just about great messaging or a killer value proposition. And despite the high production value of some of these campaigns, it wasn’t how about how much they spent, either. It was about finding novel ways to become a part of conversations and activities that their audiences were already engaged in, without seeming intrusive.

Now more than ever, marketing isn’t just about how much you can spend to get the word out — it’s about whether the word you’re spreading is interesting to anyone but yourself.

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