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How utterly cool is Prezi? 22 January, 2009

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It’s not too often I get completely wowed by a new piece of technology but Prezi has completely bowled me over.

In a nutshell, Prezi is a Flash-based presentation system that allows users to create incredibly dynamic presentations. Presentations where you can zoom in and out across a large area (no slides), create motion paths, embed images and video and do things that previously needed a pretty competent Flash developer and a whole chunk of time. It kicks traditional slideware way into touch.

And it is very, very easy.

Here’s a quick snapshot:

Prezi is currently in private beta but I got to spend a bit of time this afternoon playing with it. I took my recent writing academy deck (which you can see on Slideshare here) and put it into Prezi. You can see the result here (as long as I’ve got the sharing right) – simply click on the right arrow at the bottom right of the screen to move through the presentation).

While I’ve gone a bit zoom-tastic, consider this took just a couple of hours and required that I only had to watch a few 1 minute videos to work out how to do it. And I can download a final version of the presentation as a standalone file.

There are limitations in terms of fonts and colours at the moment (which the developers are working on) but even as it stands, it is very cool.

So there you go, zero to fanboy in a single afternoon.

Obama’s inaugural address – 2413 words of poetry 21 January, 2009

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OK, so I’m probably one of the few people in the world not to see the whole shebang live but reading the transcript in the paper today I was awestruck by the writing. It managed to be grand without being too grandiose. It felt fresh but still hit the right tone for a world-stage occasion.

There were some beautiful phrases:

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

And:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

And:

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

Lovely stuff.

The speech uses many of the rhetorical rules and yet knows exactly when to break them for effect.

The papers are all counting up the most used words – the word ‘terror’ gets just a single mention for instance. Of course, online there are better ways of doing this using the likes of Wordle which produces this:

obama-inaugural-address

You can see the original (and make your own) here.

And for the word geeks out there, I’ve also done a quick mark-up of the speech itself to pull out some of the techniques I find interesting. You can download a PDF here.

Is this 2001 all over again? 20 January, 2009

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The Economist has an interesting (and reasonably uplifting) article comparing the bright shiny new recession of 2009 with the been there, done that tech crash of 2001.

In a nutshell, the article describes how in 2001 the technology industry ‘imploded’ going from 16% growth in 2000 to a 6% decline in 2001. In comparison, Forrester predicts IT spending to decline 3% in 2009 – and when currency weighting is taken into account this could actually mean an increase of 3%.

Now of course it would be a reckless person who breaks out the Champagne just yet. These are, after all, just predictions. But, so far, this time feels different from 2001. In that year, we had one of our best first quarters ever. Then, at the beginning of April, everything stopped. And I mean everything. Scary isn’t the word.

So far this year, and we are let’s face it not even out of January yet, we’re busy. Clients are kicking off new programmes that will see us remain pretty busy into the foreseeable future. Friends at other B2B agencies are reporting being pretty stacked too.

The Economist article points to the fact that last time round, IT companies had arguably oversold to the market (Millennium Bug anyone?) and helped inflate a bubble that then burst spectacularly. These days, IT departments are less prone to throwing money at problems and don’t have the reserves of kit to fall back on. As such, they need to keep investing to deliver against critical business requirements (which in places are becoming more critical by the day). The article quotes Mark Raskino of Gartner as saying ‘IT is certainly not sacrosanct, but fairly low on the list of things to cut.’

The winners in all this, according to the Economist, are likely to be the software as a service (SaaS) companies and open source software providers. I’d add in that green tech providers may also do well as long as they can communicate the cost benefits of going green over the perception that it is a nice to have luxury that boosts companies’ CSR activities.

We’ll see if the predictions hold true. So much depends on how long this ride will last for and how deep it will go. But, I’d maintain that technology is still one of the critical means for businesses to create a tangible competitive advantages. And the tech companies that stay the course, who demonstrate their relevance and who offer tangible benefits to customers (not simply hype and jargon) will come out strong in the innevitable upturn.

Tagging video to get a first page ranking on Google 9 January, 2009

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Just a quick post to point to an interesting article by Nate Elliott at Forrester that looks at tagging video to gain a high page ranking for organic blended results on Google.

This will certainly be a case of get it while it’s hot. Once everyone is doing it, things will get a whole bunch tougher again.

Is this the beginning of an Apple Netbook? 7 January, 2009

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a-netbookNetbooks are big news just now – the ball that ASUS set rolling with the eeeeeeeeeeepc has swept almost all the other laptop manufacturers along with it (as well as creating a few new entrants along the way). With one notable exception – Apple.

Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying that Apple will wait and see how the market develops. In the meantime we’ve seen new 17″ MacBook Pro’s announced – which are as about as un-netbooky as it’s possible to get in a laptop. Then there are the rather lovely new external screens to go along with the rather lovely MacBook Air – both of which our very own Rod Banner has had gracing his desk in the office (ah the perks of being the Chairman).

But still, it has to be a matter of when rather than if.

To deliver a truly Apple netbook, the company would need to team up a damn-pretty, user-friendly 3G device with a way for users to work primarily online.

The device shouldn’t be a problem – although the question is whether it would look like a scaled down MacBook Air or a scaled up iPhone. Or perhaps a dual-screen clamshell offering a couple of multitouch screens that can adapt to differing uses (ok, calm down now). As a sideline, chip-maker Freescale has been reported as getting ready to ship Apple just the sort of processor such as device will run on.

The there’s the whole online experience part. Certainly, there’s plenty of options already around from Google, Adobe, Zoho etc. But then Apple simply faces the same problem as Microsoft as it kisses a chunk of software revenue goodbye. They will want to deliver a distinctively Apple experience.

So it was interesting to note in yesterday’s announcements the new version of iWork (Apple’s Office clone) which now features iWork.com, an online sharing space – although not yet offering online versions of the software. Team this up with the MobileMe platform and a new stripped down OSX (as promised by the next release Snow Leopard) and it gets more interesting. Then add a netbook App Store (similar to Linux’s Apt Get feature) and it’s pretty close to being job done.

But when? That’s the real question.

Happy Solstice 21 December, 2008

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In the headlong rush towards the Christmas break, it’s easy to forget that people have been marking this time of year for pretty much as long as there have been people. It’s the shortest day today – marked across millennia as the turning point when we begin looking forward to the future. Traditionally, this has been a time of optimism – longer days, shorter nights, the promise of better times to come.

Of course, just now, optimism is in pretty short supply around the world.

So what of the year to come? Well, it’s unlikely to be a wall-to-wall party. And even the supposed economic gurus really have very little idea of what might happen. But let’s not reach for the razor blades just yet.

The lessons from previous recessions (this will be my 3rd in the industry) are that those companies that continue to invest in marketing will come out of the downturn exponentially stronger (and do so for less overall cost). And, in a tough market, every company will need every single edge it can muster to win the war for a greater share of diminishing budgets.

Within this context, demand generation activities will come increasingly to the forefront. If the sell-out attendance of our recently co-sponsored Demand Generation Summit is anything to go by this is already happening. It will also be more important than ever for those in marketing to work hand in glove with those in sales (see Amanda Jobbins’ presentation at the Summit). Measurability and agility in the face of changing circumstances will be more crucial than ever.

There is of course speculation about whether demand generation is anything new or just a new term for something far older. Personally, I hope that the industry embraces demand generation in a wider sense than simply a series of disconnected short term activities designed to fill the sales funnel (aka traditional lead generation). Tactical activity is important, of course it is, but tactics alone can lead to a disjointed, piecemeal approach to acquiring and maintaining  customers over the long term.

Demand generation today is as much a philosophy as an activity. It’s about delivering ever changing, ever improving communications, interactions and experiences. It’s about using smart technology to automate and integrate these programmes wherever possible. Ultimately it’s about creating and sustaining momentum from prospect to sale and beyond.

What will 2009 bring? Search me. But it’ll be the businesses that adapt to the challenges (and re-adapt as they change) that are likely to be the winners come the inveitable upturn.

Phrases to avoid in the current economic climate 20 November, 2008

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the-great-depressionWell, ‘in the current economic climate’ would be one. It’s becoming almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or read any marketing copy without encountering wording to this effect – ‘in the current downturn’, ‘in these challenging times’ etc.

Of course, the reason for using them is empathy – we get it, we understand, we feel your pain. The problem is that customers don’t really care that much whether you feel their pain or not. They’re far more interested in actually dealing with that pain.

No one needs reminding of the problems the global economy faces at the moment. So dwelling on it in your messaging is at best a waste of precious space and at worst setting the customer on a downer before you even begin.

It is far better to go straight in to telling them why your product can solve real problems right now than, in the words of John Cleese, wasting time on a ‘statement of the bleeding obvious’.

And let’s be clear, the real problems to fix for your customers are not the economic climate and a global recession (although I’d give you a round of applause if you could). The real problems are that they need more customers, more profitable ways of working and more revenue. Simple really.

Sprint goes widget-tastic 11 November, 2008

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Sprint has put up a page full of widgets to support its This is now positioning. It’s a fantastically eclectic mix showing everything from from the current world population through to the number of coffee cups being produced. You can even download a pre-determined selection for your own use (shame they didn’t let you simply pick from the whole lot).

Sprint widgets

There are so many marketing opportunities with widgets right now. Beyond simply using them to reflect a positioning, as Sprint has, the opportunity to create stuff that’s really useful for customers is just immense.

An hour with Chip Kidd 3 November, 2008

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NOTCOT points to a presentation by designer Chip Kidd who is responsible for, among other things, some of the loveliest book jacket designs I’ve ever seen.

In the talk at University of Michigan, Chip takes the audience through a number of his designs. He talks about the reactions they received from his clients (both good and bad), the compromises and the end results.

As an insight into the creative business, it’s priceless with some laugh out loud moments.

The presentation is available free for download via iTunes (sadly not on YouTube so I can’t embed it).

Take a look.

The fast and dirty writing academy 24 October, 2008

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Every year, we run a series of internal training sessions called the Banner Academies. These are to help us share insights and information across the company. But, we figured, why stop there?

So below is the presentation I gave yesterday on writing. It’s designed to be a practical collection of tips and tricks – basically, useful stuff I’ve learnt over the years from people far cleverer than I.

Should you wish, you can download a PDF of the presentation here and get the notes (which will make the most sense of it all) here.

Enjoy.