Trust but Verify

25 Oct

Questions about the Facts

Several weeks ago, a train in Hoboken, NJ crashed and quickly made national news.

The first alert I received from CNBC said, “Major train accident causes ‘mass casualties’ in Hoboken, NJ: WNBC.”

Just 25 minutes later, I received a second CNBC alert. This one read: “1 dead, more than 100 people injured in Hoboken train accident: WNBC, citing source.”

CNBC is a reputable news organization, especially among financial audiences and business leaders. I’d wager their writers are journalists with ample experience.

Tragically, one person did die in the Hoboken crash. But the first email from CNBC was based on information from WNBC that at first glance, appears to have been incorrect.

President Ronald Reagan used a Russian proverb when interacting with the country’s officials, “Trust but verify.” Meaning, I’m going to accept what you say at face value but I’m also going to confirm the accuracy with another source.

WNBC, and ultimately CNBC, likely reported exactly what a transit official shared in what had to have been a chaotic environment. But our digital 24-hour news cycle puts a premium on speed – often at the expense of quality.

After all, if CNBC was a print outlet, this error would have been less likely. CNBC would have had time to verify that one person – not many – had lost their life.

There were nearly 212,500 students enrolled in college journalism programs in 2012.

There were 305 million blog accounts on Tumblr in July 2016, up from 17.5 million in 2011. That’s just Tumblr – not WordPress or other platforms.

Why does that matter?

Trained journalists of today and tomorrow have to meet specific standards. Stories are edited and fact checked. And, the threat of getting news wrong haunts most reporters – even if it’s just misspelling a name.

On the flipside, bloggers may or may not be officially trained. Objectivity and accuracy isn’t mandated like it is for reporters at credible news organizations.

That doesn’t mean bloggers aren’t good writers. It also doesn’t mean that bloggers are okay being loose with facts. I assume most want to do good work.

But it does mean that anyone can call themselves a blogger. And, not everyone can claim to be a trained journalist.

Bloggers aren’t held to the same journalistic standards. And, they don’t have the same repercussions as traditional reporters for inaccurate reporting.

As we enter the final weeks of a presidential election fueled by hysteria, hyperbole and even panic, it only seems appropriate to reference the Gipper’s line.

Consider the source. Consider the outlet. Don’t just accept what you read online and regurgitate it as truth.

Trust but verify. Before you share, like, retweet – or repeat.

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Trade shows: What’s the real ROI?

20 Oct

People at an Exhibition

On the way home from the Remodeling Show and Deck Expo earlier this month, I found myself wondering if trade shows still matter. Let’s face it: Trade shows are expensive.

  • You build booths
  • Create collateral
  • Give away tchotchkes
  • Travel
  • Entertain clients

But the trade show budget spreadsheet doesn’t tell the whole story.

Trade shows are a rare opportunity for marketers to talk first-hand with customers – those actually using your product or service. It’s also a chance to meet in-person with your sales team and talk face-to-face about their stumbling blocks and opportunities:

  • What keeps your clients up at night?
  • Does your three-step installation process matter to clients?
  • Does the sales team really need new collateral?
  • What messages resonate with prospects?

Sometimes these responses are hard to hear. But they’re often the reality check we need to show where we should really spend our 40+ hours each week.

ERM clients attend trade shows worldwide. And most would likely put their trade show ROI on the high side.


They understand the value of candid customer feedback, seeing the sales process up close and learning about new products.

The real trade show ROI is the stuff that never makes it on the budget spreadsheet. It’s intangible and hard to assign a number.

It’s the knowledge you gain, the people you meet and the qualitative learnings that shape how your business moves forward.

For trade show tips and tricks, check out this ERM whitepaper.

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Tesla: Innovation in the Driver’s Seat

18 Oct

The Building Materials Industry Can and Must Continue to Innovate


I recently attended the inaugural Housing Innovation Vision Economics (HIVE) conference in LA. Kudos to Hanley Wood for a successful first-time event.

The opening keynote was JB Straubel, co-founder of Tesla. Arguably one of the more innovative companies right now, Tesla is doing more than just making a beautiful electric car.

When Tesla brainstorms, they start with the problem they’re trying to solve. Their team wanted to reduce harmful emissions. How could they do that? By making an electric car that people would actually buy.

JB and his team looked at how established companies were building cars. Tesla realized how inefficient the process was and created a new way.

During HIVE, two consistent problems kept bubbling up: the housing industry’s labor shortage and the increasing challenge of affordable housing.

How do we create a new way?

How do we build a better process for attracting, hiring and retaining labor? How do we hack and disrupt and innovate to make homes more affordable?

How do we follow Tesla’s lead?

Innovation isn’t industry specific. You don’t have to be Tesla to push the boundaries. A mature industry like ours can continue to innovate – in fact, we have to.

Better design. Better space planning. Better land management. All are important to meet the needs of shifting demographics, sustainability measures and first-time homebuyers.

HIVE was definitely not the typical building materials and housing industry conference. But the conversation about how our industry innovates can’t be limited to an annual event.

What “blue sky” idea is our industry pursuing today that will be mainstream tomorrow?





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Damn you B2C Advertisers

13 Oct

You Make Our Life a Living Hell

Retro TV Commercial

No offense, I love being tricked into thinking a Twinkie will make my day better, or that breakfast at Taco Bell really is a good decision, but you still get to live in a carefree life of old school advertising.  Simply tell enough people and somebody will respond. It’s media math. Get that cost per thousand down and hope that some of us zombies will follow. Easy (assuming the company has enough media budget) and no one is getting fired because someone ordered a pizza and didn’t like the cheese-stuffed-crust. The customer will move on or try another option. Easy.

In the B2B world, our decisions have to be a bit more calculated.

For example, we have a client who is a large multi-national manufacturer.  They sell into several industries. Our task: launch a product that cost around $10 million dollars and is an optional product to the buyer. Bonus points – there’s only about 100 people who could actually buy the product (heavily regulated industry) and we already know who they are. Now that’s a challenge. And one where your margin for error is pretty small.

I don’t mean to diminish those Twinkies ads – given my waistline, they must work, along with running to the border. But as a longtime B2B marketer (and converted CPG advertiser), I think it’s time we stand up and be proud of the incredibly challenging and rewarding work of B2B.

In B2B, we work to educate and inform businesses about solutions to problems that our clients’ products or services could solve for them. Real solutions to real business problems.

I challenge us as an industry to remember those business buyers with real problems are also real people. The same people buying Twinkies, tacos and pizzas.

They order a $50 item off Amazon and in most cases they can have it tomorrow. And they can track the process at every step on their phone. They bring that experience to work with them, so let’s talk to them as real people who don’t want to hear why you can’t deliver on time or with a quality customer experience for that $50,000 purchase.

I call this the consumerization of B2B and its rapidly changing the expectations of clients and customers alike. Are you ready for this? Just remember that B2B can’t be boring to boring and it has to be people to people. And remember, it’s all the B2C advertisers’ fault.

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Wireframing: Yes, You Can! (And Should)

5 Oct

The Blueprint for Web Success

designer drawing website development wireframe


Guest Contributor:
Bradley Williamson, Interactive Developer

In putting together a new website or app, there are many business decisions to be made along the way. Sometimes businesses are tempted by change for the sake of change, adding in tech just because it’s cool, or a “modern” design just because it’s trendy.

But if your website is neither functional nor user-friendly, it’s not going to increase sales, traffic, or conversions. Though there is a time and a place for focusing on fanciful designs and flashing animations, the heart and soul of your web user experience is what matters, and wireframing can begin to solidify that. Build from a blueprint using these tips, and your website will be fleshed out with purposeful simplicity.

Wireframing 101

A wireframe is a basic, visual concept of a user interface that defines key user goals and content hierarchy. Often, they’re unrefined sketches or concepts made on grid paper, whiteboards, desktop programs, and other web-based tools. There is no perfect way to perform this vital step.

Wireframes are done with “block diagrams” to house content.

Wireframes are done with “block diagrams” to house content.


Acting as a “blueprint,” wireframes serve as the bones of your design and development processes. Wireframing should come after discovery and before getting into the nitty-gritty details of design.

Wireframe concepts are meant to be thoughtful, fast and fluid, representing a kind of visual brainstorm for internal and external teams. They enrich the conversation around how users will engage with your interface. Wireframes help answer those brewing questions of functionality by taking the abstract ideas from the planning phase and arranging them meaningfully.

Talking with a “Wiry” Voice

Wireframes are often developed in black and white; it’s not the time for discussing color palettes, font choices, imagery, and even branding. The discussion around wires includes:
Content: deciding what should and shouldn’t be displayed
Information hierarchy: arranging that content meaningfully
Functionality: investigating potential action-oriented components
Structure: interconnecting all parts to work seamlessly together
Behavior: evaluating how the user is impacted in their product experience

Wireframing is a time-saver in the long-term, keeping usability headaches or graphical head-scratchers down the road at bay. In other words, you’ll know very early what’s going on your B2B site, where it’s going, and why it’s important. By taking the time to work through wireframes, it’s much easier to throw out large blocks of content and alter key sections, instead of having to change the design concept down the road.

Wiring in the Right People

User interface and user experience designers or information architects are primarily responsible for the creation of wireframes by balancing the larger goals against the user’s needs. During this time, wireframing can inspire the creative and development processes. Developers and designers will use the wires to reduce the learning curve around site implementations and enhancements. Internal project managers assess the wires to ensure the process is within scope and strategy.

Down to the Wire: Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever jumped into a website and realized it was challenging to navigate, or been part of a website development project that went awry, a wireframe should become your new best friend. The process of wireframing a website is a tried and true method to help tackle the challenges for your B2B website.

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