SPSA and Unintended Long Term Consequences

I am a bit off my usual posts for this website, where I typically speak about brand, website design, and marketing issues. This time it is a public issue that concerns our entire Hampton Road region. However, it is the same type of issue involved in branding – unforeseen consequences of change.

In a rare fit of regional cooperation over 20 years ago, eight localities (Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight, and Southampton) came together under the SPSA (Southeastern Public Service Authority) to handle most trash. The facilities major facilities are in Portsmouth. A very important output of the facility is burning trash and selling the energy to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth to heat their 94 odd buildings, for a green initiative of “waste-to-energy” conversion. It has worked well since it began.

A Highly Complex Issue

Each entity pays a “tipping fee” per ton of trash. This contract ends in 2018.There is a “delta” that needs to be addressed. The cost of the tipping fees will come down – yes, down – after the contract with Wheelabrator, Technologies which now owns the facility, ends in 2018. They bought it and the debt it carried, in order to maintain the facility and continue to sell energy to the Navy. Use of landfills is cheaper. As Shakespeare quipped “therein lies the rub”. If the Navy loses the energy from this deal – currently supplying 40% of the mandated renewable energy to their mid-Atlantic region, could it fuel a decision to close this base? Yes, it could. To that end, please see the attached letter from John C Harvey, Admiral, USN, Rtd. and acting Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs. Click the link and you can see the letter. Trash Haul Letter from Secretary Harvey 

Long Term Decisions VS Short Term Gains

The Navy obviously does not want to lose this valuable resource. Portsmouth stands to lose $1.3 million in tax revenue, nearly 150 jobs, a great corporate citizen, and the third largest user of water in the city. The water is turned into steam by four turbines at the shipyard.

The letter, sent to all area mayors (this one is a copy of one to Will Sessoms of Virginia Beach) strongly urges us to consider possible long-term economic impact if we force the Navy to look elsewhere, as well as abandonment of a highly successful “Green Initiative”. That’s on top of the $1.3 million dollars in lost tax revenue to Portsmouth and the third largest consumer of city water.

When the next base realignment comes, and it will come amid further military spending cuts, the loss of the shipyard will be devastating.

I don’t have a final answer to this complex issue. All I know is that it needs to come to light for the citizens of Hampton Roads and particularly of the citizens of Portsmouth.

First Things First cardboard isolated on white

Refreshing a Brand Image

Refreshing a brand image – keeping some things and letting others go.

Is there any brand loyalty left today? Of course there is. I am a good example of it. Here is my favorite brand of toothpaste and it has been that way for over 50 years. I have no intention of changing from Crest to any other brand. I love it.

But I am an old guy. What to I know? What about new prospects for Crest? Having people recognize and recall a brand, even when it is updated, means keeping certain recognizable image elements in tact and letting others go. The brilliant band designers who came up with these new images knew what they were doing. It is worth noting what they did.

Refreshing a Brand - Hampton Roads

An older Crest image.

Refreshing a Brand in Hampton Roads

A More Recent Crest Look

The human mind recognizes words in chunks and other images instead of individual letters. So the guys running this campaign kept that powerful red C even if they changed the rest of the colors slightly. 

And there is one other item of  note. It is SLIGHTLY hard to read the word “TOOTHPASTE” on the old box. However, on the newer box and tube, the word “COMPLETE” is very easy to read. They have a number of different formulas and it is important to the consumer’s user experience to be able to tell the difference in them easily. At one time, there was one crest and only one. Now there are many, answering the concerns of many users.

Can you emulate this type of idea of refreshing your brand image? Of course you can, as long as the basics are strong to begin with. The problem often comes when an original idea is abandoned to the point that the entire idea is lost. These things should be undertaken carefully. Another fine example of keeping a brand in tact is what the folks at Good Housekeeping have done with their logo over the years. It has gone through 5 or six (or more) iterations, but always keeping certain recognizable elements.

So if you need a brand refreshed, do so carefully. And of course, give us a call if you would like our help.

Chandler Turner, President, Accurate Business Communications.


Brand Positioning Strategy

Brand Positioning Strategy – Have you created one?

A brand positioning strategy can mean the success of any product or service. Failure to take the time to create a brand positioning strategy can lead to disaster.

What is brand positioning strategy?

First of all, what is a brand?

Brand – The public perception of your offer, whether a product or service. It is not what you say it is. It is what the public perceives it to be based on any contact they have, be it print ad, website, or customer service encounter.

Brand Position – Consisting of several parts, this brings your product or service to life by defining its attributes. 1. Who is the target audience? 2. In what category does the offer compete? What market? 3. Why is this beneficial to own? 4. What gives the prospective customer a reason to believe that the brand will deliver on its promise of beneficial ownership?

What types of things should we consider in creating our brand?  Take a look at the graphic below. All of these things apply to the brand’s position. Benefits and value – those things associated by customers as “reasons to own” are the absolute necessities. People could care less what it is you do or how you do it until they understand how it helps them.

Brand Positioning Strategy

A brand’s attributes are its features. They are facts: it comes in 35 colors, is made of super-polymer resins, operates at 3000 psi at 6 atmospheres – whatever.

Combining all of these things help create the personality, including the addition of things like personnel, logo colors, customer support, and so forth.

All of this goes into brand positioning strategy. And at its core should be a short, one, two, or three sentence statement of brand position.

It’s what causes people to purchase what you have to offer.


Writing Poor Email Subject LInes

A poor email subject line creates a massive barrier to communications. 

What gets you to read an email and what gets them deleted?

I was totally stunned by an email I received this morning from a source that should have known better than to send such a piece of junk.

The Subject Line read “Is Time on Your Side”.

The addressee section was “Admin Email”

Really? Even after all of the professional advice not to do this? 

We get hundreds of emails a day. How do we filter the good from the poor? It’s pretty easy. Why people don’t follow simple rules is beyond me.

1. The addressee – If an email comes from an unknown source, we are apt to delete it without ever looking at the body of the message. It’s just that simple. The decisions are made in seconds and are irreversible because the email is deleted.

2. The subject line – Oh, come on! Why should I read one more email about saving time if I do not know what it relates to? The unfortunate thing is that the article talks about a focus on issues with a level of importance and not to focus on things that waste time. The problem with that headline is that it offers nothing more than the word time, not relative importance.

How to Write a Good Email Subject Line

The issue with the addressee is almost too obvious to mention.

1. Please allow your reader to understand who the message is from. Admin Message is not it!

2. How to you garner attention with a subject line? Carefully crafting it to center on what your readers are likely to want from you. “Is time on your side” could have been written in a number of better ways.

There should be a value proposition. 

Value propositions answer the question “What’s in it for me”. They are not explanations of what you do. Rather, they are suggestions of how you can help your clients – those people who depend on your skills.

“How to Recognize Workplace Time Wasters and How to Avoid Them”. “Learning How to Gain Workplace Efficiency”. “Learning Where Time is Spent Properly and Where it is Wasted”. “How to Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks at Work”. And there are many more. Just make sure something in the subject line relates directly to helping the reader.

Do you see the value propositions?

Here, they are partially implied in the titles – learn, recognize, how-to. But they should be reinforced with a first introductory sentence. “At “ABC” company, we teach our your employees how to recognize time-wasters in the workplace and how best to avoid them. Learning these skills increases workplace efficiency, and business success follows quickly.”



Web Usability – Low Contrast Text is a Mistake

Web Usability – Low Contrast Text is a Mistake

What you see here is a 12 point Veranda text, black on a white background. But please allow me to degrade it for effect. 

What you now see is a 12 point Veranda text, a popular gray on a white background. It is inherently more difficult to read. Drop the font size even slightly and it is far worse. 

This has become a recent fad with certain web designers looking for minimalism. Generally it is a bad mistake. Why? Just look at how difficult the text is to read in comparison. Beyond the fact that it is harder to read, recently one of the writers for the Neilsen Norman Group, Katie Sherwin, reported some important findings. 

Persistent Usability Flaws

  1. Legibility Suffers – Low contrasts cause eye strain. When people get eye strain from reading, they immediately transfer the difficulty reading to a lack of trust in the text – something that you simply do not want.
  2. Discoverability is reduced – Users who do not perceive a use on a page simply cannot use it. Click-through data reveals that when low contrasts are used, clicks drop dramatically.
  3. User Confidence is Diminished – Studies reveal that when text is hard to read, confidence drops. It is simply frustrating.
  4. Mobile Content – Can you imagine just how much more difficult a small screen is to read when the text is tiny and when there may be an ambient light source making it even worse.
  5. Cognitive Strain – When the eye encounters something hard to read the tasks, the strain is transferred to the object in question and the difficulty is associated with it.

What Else Might be Done?

  1. Reduce the density of text – Reducing some text can reduce clutter. Remove unnecessary content.
  2. Change Font Sizes – Turn important text into headlines to allow for scanning. Use larger fonts for the headlines. Look at this article to see examples.
  3. Study good accessibility-compliant color combinations. There are free tools around.
  4. Reposition less important information

Ms. Sherwin concluded her article in good fashion. “Most websites don’t have the luxury of a household name and an army of loyal brand followers who are willing to endure a frustrating user experience”.

Stop using trendy designs. Most of them are bad ideas that will soon disappear.

User Experience Design of Websites


The business purpose of all website design should be to focus on the user or reader of the material. That means designers need to include how the site design works from the perspective of the people landing on the site. Last year when I read Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things it revealed a lot about doing this effectively.

In reading a web post this morning, I was reminded of how important this is. Don Norman suggested four principles of screen interface. They make a lot of sense to users.

1. Follow conventional usage, both in the choice of images and the allowable interactions. In other words, don’t get too creative and violate conventional usage of symbols and other design less you risk a reader not being able to figure out your intent. Violating convention is doomed to failure because it simply does not meet expectations. An example he used was to suddenly require double-clicking when a single click is what they expect. A double-click would appear to be a broken link and therefore would likely not be used.

2. Use words to describe the desired action. What is wrong with “Click Here” or “Click to Download”? This is why menus are so easy to understand. Except for their location on the page, their use is pretty standard. But words alone are not enough. There needs to be a highlighting, bordering, or some depiction of an actionable object. Changing from an arrow to a finger is popular.

3. Use of metaphors – This is both useful and harmful and it is usually the latter. The problem is that not everyone is going to understand the point. A striking similarity is the over-use of industry-speak that only “insiders” understand. An  industry acronym is a great example.

4. Follow a coherent conceptual model so that once part of the interface is learned, the same principles follow for the other parts. This is one of the main reasons in brand-centric design to use a style sheet for the client before any design starts. You are able to agree on design concepts, in writing, before guesswork starts.




Website Content and SEO Myths

Are SEO myths about website content costing you time and money?

When a great deal of confusion exists swirling around a subject like SEO, it is time to find out what the top experts are saying. I refer to several  them frequently. One of them I follow is HubSpot, Inc – www.hubspot.com.. They just published a list of 17 myths about SEO. I am going to list them here. You can also find quotes from a lot of professional contributors. Don’t take my word for it; take theirs. But even if your site ranks well, if the content is not properly architected, your prospects will go elsewhere in just a click.

Myth #1 – Setting up Google authorship is important. Google dismantled the program in 2014.

Myth #2 – I must submit my site to Google. Google will find it and submissions don’t guarantee anything.

Myth #3 – More links are better than more content. Linking is no longer a numbers game. Professionals are suggesting that we all invest in more content.

Myth #4 – Having a secure (https encrypted) site is not important for SEO. That is simply incorrect. Though not heavily weighted, it has an influence.

Myth #5 – SEO is all about ranking –  It is not the supreme goal it used to be. Similar click-through rates are being shown for listings at the top of other pages and on those with rich snippets show far higher click-through rates.

Myth #6 – Meta descriptions have a huge impact on search rankings – Google announced in 2009 that meta descriptions have no bearing on search ranking. However. meta descriptions give you a great chance to separate yourself from the chaff.

Myth #7 – SEO can be handled by the IT department – SEO does not require technical expertise,. It is a different skill set.

Myth #8 – Keyword optimization is THE key to SEO. – Nope! Search engines are more concerned with quality of the content. That does not mean we toss out the keywords altogether, but use them wisely.

Myth #9 – Keywords need to be an exact match. Keywords should be used in headlines to make the readers understand what the content is all about.

Myth #10 – The H1 is the most important on-page content – H1’s, H2′,s are all part of the style sheet. It is more important to present the most important concepts early in the post.

Myth #11 – My homepage needs a lot of content – The home page needs to do little more than verify who you are, what you do, where you are located, your value proposition, and what visitors should do next.

Myth #12 – The more pages I have, the better – Not everything you publish gets indexed. Some get indexed but don’t remain. And many, many pages does not mean they will drive qualified traffic. 

Myth #13 – Local SEO doesn’t matter any more – Google continues to try to bubble the best content to the top./

Myth #14 -Microsites and other domains I own that link or redirect back to my site will help SEO – HubSpot says that the chances of this are slim to none.

Myth #15 – Google will never know if I have bad sites linking to me – Yes, they will.

Myth #16 – SEO is not a usability issue. SEO has evolved from simply getting found to imoving engagement. Keeping visitors on your site is important. 

Myth #17 – SEO and inbound marketing don’t mix – These are inexorably linked. 

Content? I need content?

This is just for fun. It was taken from  Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers blog – an excellent one – as posted by Paul Chato of “Your Web Department”

Here is a transcription of an actual conversation I (Paul Chato) had recently (Tightened up a bit to not bore people):

(Client is in quotes)

“What do you mean I need content?”
You know, the stuff that describes what you do along with photographs that show what you do?
“How do we get that?”
Someone will have to write and shoot it.
“Will that cost money?”
Yes, it usually does, unless you do it yourself.
“I don’t know how to do it.”
Then you will have to get someone who does.
“Can’t you just build a website without it?”
“Make it look nice.”
How do we make it look nice if we don’t have content to make look nice.
“Can’t you take it from somewhere?”
Then it wouldn’t be your content.
“I’m not very confident that you people know what you’re doing. I just want a website.”
Do you visit websites?
“Sure, all the time.”
What do you think you’re reading and looking at?
“The website.”
Right, has content, copy to read and pictures to look at. It usually describes the business or service.
“Yeah, do that.”
Sure, we’ll get a writer and put a budget together.
“No, I don’t want a writer, just do it.”
The process of writing is a service.
“But you know what we do. I told you.”
Sure, so you go ahead and you just write what you do down, because you know your own business, and we’ll put it in the website for you.
“Just put in what I told you.”
That would be writing.
“No it’s not, I told you what to write.”
Yes, but we have to add nouns and verbs and other things to actually tease a few sentences out of what you said.
“Sure, do that.”
That would be writing.
“Look, you’re talking all the time. You’re talking to me right now. You’re not charging me to talk to me. Just write your talking down.”
Let’s just leave copy out of the discussion for one moment. What about pictures?
“I gave you pictures.”
They were taken by your cell phone. They look, dark and tiny… I’m sorry to say… amateurish.
“Then do that Photoshop thing.”
All Photoshop will do is let us make them barely recognizable.
“Yeah, do that.”
Unfortunately, it won’t increase the resolution to a useable size. Digital images have their limits.
“I see them do it all the time on CSI.”
If you’d like a corpse on your website I’m sure it can be arranged.
“That would turn people off, are you crazy?”
I’m getting there. Look, you’ve been in business for 27 years. Are you telling me that you’ve never taken any pictures of the products, process, or of your people interacting with clients?
“Never thought of that. That is a brilliant idea.”
“Please do it.”
Sure, I’ll get a quote from a professional photographer.
“Don’t you have a good camera on your phone?”
“Just use that.”
Even if I take the pictures with my phone that will take time and I will have to charge you for them.
“But they would only be phone pictures.”
I don’t see your point.
“You already have a camera on your phone, it’s free, see. Use that so it won’t cost you anything to take them.”
But what about my time, the shooting session, the travel there and back?
“Do it on a day when it’s on your way to another appointment.”
I see, just take a quick break, pop into your facility and take some impromptu snaps before I scoot off to my money-making appointment?
“Yes, that’s it. Great idea, eh?”
I’m sorry, I can’t do it. My time is valuable. I don’t think we can do your website. In fact you’ve made it impossible to do your website. Without content you have no website. All you’d have is a banner.
“Okay, I’ll take just the banner.”
Just a banner, no content?
Okay, we can design a simple banner for you in a few hours, times our hourly rate.
“No, I don’t want you to make a banner, just put one up.”
How do we put one up unless someone makes it?
“You know, you web people, make it really hard for us non-technical people to understand what you do.”
We do it on purpose.


Geo-Fencing Marketing – Worth the Trouble or Not?

This rather new geo-fencing marketing technology idea was presented to me yesterday. It sounded pretty good. But I needed to ask my usual question: Is it worth my time and effort or that of my clients? 

The answer: maybe. Why maybe for Geo-Fencing? It depends.

The offer is one suggesting that you can create a digital fence around a given area. This is true. But what kind, and what is required? Well, that’t the rub.

Graphic by

Graphic from iteen365

The new geo-fencing marketing technology takes advantage of geo-positioning available in smart phones and allows retailers or anyone to sent push-notifications to their clients. That is called an opt-in strategy which is extremely efficient and the ROI is unquestioned.



What’s the catch? You need for your clients to 1. have a smart phone and 2. download the application directed toward you. Here is a good article on how it works and what is needed.


Just like anything else, some people may benefit a lot – but you will need frequent visitors to opt-in and download the application.

If you don’t  have the type of business for which this would work, avoid the trap of a new technology that will not work for you.

User Experience – It’s About Emotions

What is this thing called user experience? The answer depends on who you ask, but professional arguments over semantics are a silly waste of time. Wikipedia has a really good explanation. User experience involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system, or service

User experience is about the reactions of the end user of whatever it is you have to offer, whenever they encounter anything related to it; any advertising – web, print, social media, TV, radio – or the product itself.

How are Most Mistakes Made?

Most sales, marketing, and advertising mistakes are made by giving people too much information too fast, and giving them too many choices. Why? Because too much information confuses people. The biological – yes, biological – reaction of an encounter with confusion is to get away from it. it is a survival instinct that takes place in the subconscious, like when you get a gut feeling that something is wrong. People will not engage with a product or service until they understand it.The more complex the product, the more important this concept is.

How Do We Avoid Errors?

In reading one of Steve Krug’s books recently, he suggested that to make a web page (or similar page) attractive for people to engage with, the challenge was to cut half of the content without losing the meaning – and then to cut it in half again. It is a great idea and it works.

I use the KISS method – Keep It Simple Stupid. People really don’t like more complexity in their lives. When selling a product or service, make sure prospects can understand one or two simple ideas about what your product is, what it does, and most of all, what it can do to benefit them. They have to perceive a reason to own it. That results in a good user experience.