Friday, 26 August 2011

Press Refresh - Adapting digital marketing to work better in our service economy

Here's an article I wrote for Campaign just recently.

It's about how marketing is built to serve a production economy, even though we're now living with an economy that is overwhelming based around service. Basically, marketing is built on out-dated and increasingly creaky foundations!

Our long overdue upgrade


Our whole industry is built on ageing foundations. The upgrade we need will come from digital techniques, embodied by new approaches such as Service Design.



The Internet is one of the most exciting catalysts for change in all our working lives. We work our little digits to the bone trying to keep up. As an endless barrage of digital innovations brighten our laptop screens, it's tempting to focus on what we could do with it all - perhaps missing the point of what we should do to support the changing shape of modern business.

This essay may feel more like playing the tortoise than the hare, but it's worth taking a moment to understand the long game. Sometimes legacies from the past hold us back from making the most of the future. After all, it's not what futuristic technology that you use, it's the way that you use it. That's what gets results.

So let's rewind to the last comparable revolution, long before we got familiar with typing "www" in front of everything.

Marketing shows its age

The first marketing agencies sprang up as the industrial revolution launched into full swing. Production capabilities dramatically increased, and companies found themselves with an exciting emerging need to promote products to a wider audience. Suddenly, they could go national. Suddenly, every household in the land became a potential consumer. Companies happily commissioned external agents to make the best of the job. The job required skills in announcement, broadcast and capturing people's attention and affinity. Our industry founded itself on persuasion, disruption and targeting: a marketing industry built around the needs of a production economy.

That was a long time ago. We are no longer an economy dominated by production. Service industries overtook manufacturing share of GDP around the 1970s, and now make up over 75% of UK & US GDP. The businesses we operate, and our national consumption patterns, have undergone a seismic shift. In tandem with this, we are well set into the digital revolution. Digital has grown out of a service economy, and has also accelerated the growth of that economy. The digital revolution and Europe and North America's developed service economies go hand-in-hand.

The marketing requirements of a service economy are different to those of a production economy. This is no longer about announcing the availability of commodities, and chasing a series of disparate sales. Service-based businesses have a much stronger behavioural component than product-based businesses. Just as with products, any given service can gain competitive advantage through unique and advantageous features. For instance, a banking service can have a better interest rate than its competitors; or a holiday company can offer more cost effective package deals. But a lot of what convinces customers to buy into a service is in the way that service provider behaves. Will this bank pick up the phone when I need them? Will this holiday company treat me like cattle, or like a rock star?

When a brand's behaviour is a critical deciding factor, the agenda for that brand's marketing changes. Where marketing for a production economy was about announcement and persuasion, marketing for a service economy is about interaction, personalisation and integration. That is, customers want to experience your services before they buy - they want to interact with you. They want to know if your service can deliver a good fit for them personally. And they want to be sure that your brand is genuine - that you are who you say you are, wherever you are met.

New generation, new approach

I believe we are only now starting to upgrade our marketing model to suit the conditions of the age. It is not really digital technology that's driving it, but it is native digital techniques.

At the forefront of this change is Service Design - a new discipline to focus on the total user experience of a service. It has an obvious parallel with industrial product design, which emerged as a distinct trade not too long after our first marketing agencies appeared. The agenda for product design was to tailor the functionality and experience of a product to suit its user. Similarly, Service Design aims to appraise and develop the complete experience of a service, and tailor it for its target audiences. What product design is to a production economy, Service Design is to a service economy.

Service Design does not only apply to service provider brands. Almost all production-based businesses benefit from increasing their focus on the service they provide. Service, at its broadest, is the front line of a brand's behaviour towards its audience, and the experience that brand aims to create.

The language of Service Design is noticeably similar to the language of User Experience Design. While digital agency UX professionals are used to talking about digital interfaces, Service Designers talk about the service interface, which is the complete set of touchpoints for that service. Customers, shoppers and consumers are generally referred to simply as users, and service design goes through stages of persona creation, user journey mapping and prototyping. There is an obvious parallel between how digital has been causing marketing to develop, and how Service Design is now emerging out of a mature service economy.

Press refresh

The new .com companies are already fluent in Service Design principles. Companies like Runkeeper and Evernote use all of their media touchpoints to provide increasingly capable and customisable services for users. In fact, they seem far more focused on using touchpoints for service provision than for traditional marketing usage. They rely on social reputation more than on broadcast advertising. They don't try to put users onto regular email programmes in order to squeeze more sales out per customer. They don't use apps or other tech as naive, zeitgeisty novelties. They think about data capture primarily as a benefit to their users rather than themselves. They think of media planning as ways of serving their users more comprehensively, at times and places that suit them best.

The paradigm has shifted. It is almost impossible to tell whether digital is a cause or an effect of the new agenda for modern service economies. But it is certainly at the forefront of the change. As agencies continue to digitise, and as our clients' business models do too, I predict that we will get an increasingly clear view of a new model for marketing.

Although digital technology will always be about innovation and upgrades, I'm not so much interested in upgrading technology as I am interested in how we use digital to upgrade the marketing model.



  • It's not what technology you use, it's how you use it.
  • How we use digital is too often pinned to an antiquated marketing model.
  • The needs of our service economy require different priorities, perfectly suited to digital.
  • Service Design characterises the upgrade that we need.

Richard Neville is the Chief Strategy Officer at Elvis

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Designing websites with the right screen width

Deciding what pixel width to design your website for is still a pain in the ass, even after all these years.
Here's a few thoughts to help make a more informed judgment.

First point: Browser size is not the same as screen resolution

Screen resolutions are going up year on year, partly due to increased monitor sizes, but mostly these days due to increased PPI (pixels per inch), such as on 'retina display' screens.
Browsers are increasingly able to intelligently scale their content, rather than display content at 100% pixel dimensions (e.g. iPad / iPhone / Android browsers).

Second point: We need to distinguish between pixel width and viewing width

Pixel width is the width of the website as a designer would see it in Photoshop.
Viewing width is the width of the website as a proportion of the user's field of view at a comfortable reading distance.
For normal websites in normal use cases, we could refer to viewing width as on-screen width, and measure it in centimetres.
Websites will be able to increase their pixel width as technology improves, but they will not keep on increasing their viewing width.
This is because what makes a comfortable viewing width is more to do with human perception than it is to do with technology.
Eyes don't like to strain at something tiny. Nor do they like to scan too much around the place.
For instance, body text is nice to read when there's about 12 words to a line. It's more 'scannable' when there's a few less (but not many), and it starts to become hard to track when there's a lot more than 12.

Third point: We should aim for a good viewing width, not anything else

The only reason we should care about pixel widths is because they are proportional to viewing widths on standard browser setups for the vast majority of our users.
Design for the viewing width that suits most of your users.
Here's how to calculate that, far better than just looking at your stats and saying "Most people are on 1280 wide, so let's set up our design like that."

Finally: Calculate what your users will be comfortable with, not just what they can accommodate

1. Look at your stats and get the screen resolutions used by the majority of your users.
2. Based on those resolutions, consider the physical dimensions of the screens that your users are most likely to be looking at.
3. Make intelligent assumptions about the likely comfortable viewing width as a percentage of those screen sizes. People with smaller screens tend to set their browser to full screen. When screens get past a certain size, their users tend to stop stretching the browser to fill the screen.
4. Multiply the viewing width percentage by the screen width, and you have a reasonable proxy for your users' comfortable (or preferred) browser width*.
5. From that, you can work out how many of your users would be comfortable with your proposed screen dimensions.
6. Additionally, you may wish to consider whether your users could accommodate your screen dimensions. That is, do they have enough screen size to stretch their browser to your proposed screen dimensions. This will generally be the width of the screen minus around 24 pixels for scrollbars and borders.
Aim for something that most of your users are comfortable with. And avoid something that only just accommodates them.
This spreadsheet should help you work out the 6 steps above.
Google doc: Calculate the right screen width for your users
* A useful reference for whether you have reasonable estimations of comfortable browser width is

Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO

Inaugural post!

Quick summary:

Steve Jobs' resignation note:

A couple of tributes by Tech Crunch:

Steve Jobs the Patron Saint of Perfectionists

Steve Jobs: The End Of An Era

And finally...
Tim Cook to replace Jobs as CEO

Whatever you think, it's big news for computing, the Internet and all those devices that we know and love. And it's a rare clear line marking one era passing and a new one beginning.