Creative techniques to strategically attract audiences.

Archive for the ‘Creative’ Category

3 steps to improvise your way towards being more creative

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

Improvise to be more creative

Are you often wishing you could be more creative, but can’t quite figure out where to begin?

(Note: This blog post is better enjoyed if read while playing this performance by Thelonious Monk and his band in the background.)

Many people — from entrepreneurs, developers, and even artists — have told me that they wish they found out the secret to be more creative in their endeavors. Most people understand quite well the benefits of being more creative, yet the path to get there seems to elude them.

I think the path to set loose their creative flow and get into a pattern where they can be more creative has a lot to do with one of my favorite music genres: jazz.

The two main misconceptions about jazz are that: 1) jazz musicians just “wing it” all the time, and 2) jazz musicians are only as good as the licks (i.e., repetitious patterns) they learn. The reality is that it is neither this nor that.

The formation of a jazz musician can be boiled down to a three-step process, which someone in any field can follow to be more creative.

Here are the steps:

1) Let go of preconceptions

The first thing a musician needs to do when learning how to play jazz is to empty their mind from structured patterns they may have picked up along the way. Holding too firmly to elements learned in the past can inhibit the creative mind, as it only “anchors” it on a safe — but common — spot.

In like manner, when embarking on a creative endeavor, you should put aside the notions, concepts, habits, and techniques that you have learned along the way — whether they’ve been helpful in the past or not.

The fact of the matter is that if you are to take on a challenge with a fresh new approach, the more baggage you come into it with, the more your approach will be tinted with what was already familiar to you.

Let yourself be free for a bit — even if that means opening yourself up for making mistakes — and observe the challenge with an open mind.

2) Review the rules

This is going to sound completely contrary to what I just said, but please bear with me.

Almost every creative endeavor has rules set forth by people who have preceded you, with years of experience that you cannot possibly equate in a short amount of time.

Jazz music has styles and genres that have already been established. It has scales and chord systems that are unique to jazz, and there is a whole science behind them. Jazz even has models around what works and what doesn’t work with regard to solos.

For example, it is often seen as jarring when a jazz musician begins his/her solo by just blurting out notes randomly. The “correct” way to do it is to begin the solo by laying the groundwork for a pattern (melodic or rhythmic), then repeating the pattern with a slight modification, then possibly modifying it further a third time, and only  then releasing forth a free-form stream of notes.

Even jazz musicians like Thelonius monk — despite being perceived as plunking notes at random — was a genius student of forms, chord patterns, and other rules. Once you realize this — which may take a bit of study — you will be amazed at how much restraint Monk showed.

In everything you do, it would serve you well to read up on the rules of what has worked and what simply doesn’t work.

I’m not here telling you that you need to complete a master’s degree in logo design or creative writing, or whatever it is that you want to be more creative in. With just some basic knowledge, acquired quickly by reading a book, a few articles, tutorials on YouTube, etc., you will be well ahead of people who don’t care to stop for a second and pay attention to these tried and true guidelines.

3) Now break the rules

For every Count Basie, who showed unbelievable restraint in the context of jazz, there is an Ornette Coleman, who sounds like he is just picking out notes as he goes along without any sense of structure.

But this is hardly the case.

A famous quote by master artist Pablo Picasso goes, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Once you’ve gone through step 2, learning and reviewing the guidelines around what you’re hoping to achieve, you will then be free to break the rules, take creative licenses, and flat out bust into your version of a sax solo.

The difference here is that you’d be doing it on solid ground, and not by incessantly poking in the air to see if something sticks.

I love one of the coolest lessons from Victor Wooten’s Groove Workshop (which you can see right here — warning: it has terminology from music theory) is that “You are never more than half a step away from a right note.”

What he means is that, as long as you have your sight on the outcome you wish to arrive at, and the guidelines that can take you there — which you should have crystal-clear after applying step 2 — there is nothing so unbelievably wrong you can do, that cannot be easily tweaked back to being right.

Creativity is all about taking risks… yet the risks aren’t life-threatening! Go for it, take a step forward, feel free to make mistakes if you need to. Often you’ll realize that even what you initially thought were mistakes, aren’t really so bad after all.

 

I hope these three steps can help you feel a bit unblocked so you can learn to be more creative. The band has played, the drummer just flammed… It’s time for your solo!

Have any other tips you would recommend to unlock the creative mind? Feel free to share them with others in the comments section.

 

Lessons Learned: When Things Don’t Quite Go As Expected

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

lessons-learned

One of the aspects that I enjoy the most about what we do at YMMY is seeing the potential of a project, and going full force to reach our goal.

Being an independent business owner, who is not tied up by committees, investors, equity-partners nor shareholders, I can decide which initiatives I choose to believe in — by placing my team’s time, effort, and money — and which ones to decline.

When my friend and mentor Topher Morrison approached me with a grand idea, one that I thought would not only be successful for him, but also help aspiring business owners, I was honored to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.

The premise of the campaign was simple: Present local entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete for a Grand Prize of $25,000, by doing exactly what they do at every business meeting, networking group, and sales presentation… Pitch their business in 5 minutes or less.

I thought it was a fantastic initiative, and as we do only with people we absolutely like and initiatives we fully believe in, we set normal business practice aside and invested our resources well beyond our agreements and project scopes.

As I said before, things didn’t quite go as expected.

In the words of Topher himself:

“The result? Pathetic. In fact, we had to pull the competition because the number of applicants were so low we couldn’t come close to covering the prize package.”

Reading this is absolutely heart-wrenching. (But feel free to read the rest of his blog post.)

Now make no mistake… Our campaign achieved great visibility:

My entrepreneur friends on Facebook told me that they continuously saw the campaign messages whenever they checked their social accounts — and not in a saturating way. All our data plus common sense tells me that the issue was never lack of visibility nor attraction.

So why did the campaign not work? Again, Topher’s words:

“…after our team had spoken to several small business owners in Tampa who we genuinely felt would be great candidates, and after a complete conversation that clearly articulated all of the benefits, the overwhelming majority of the business owners we spoke with responded with one simple, sad response. ‘I just don’t think I can win.’ ”

“I don’t think I can win”? What kind of an answer is that from an entrepreneur?

I mean, the whole mission of an entrepreneur is about believing in something and going for it, even if it takes staring into the scary depths of uncertainty.

And the only thing this campaign asked people to believe in was their own business mission, which they voluntarily chose to pursue — I mean, it’s safe to assume they didn’t turn to entrepreneurship by force, right?

If it weren’t due to a quite reasonable conflict of interest, I would’ve totally signed up and participated in the competition. What’s the worst that could happen? Being out a $100 registration fee — a standard for competitions of all sorts — and getting a small boo-boo in my ego?

A few things did happen after the competition was shut down. A select group of registrants absolutely begged that the competition not be shut down, even asking whether the Grand Prize could just be reduced or even eliminated entirely.

Trudy Beerman, one of my entrepreneur friends, even told me that by the sheer fact of recording and publishing her pitch video — a requirement for the competition — she received an invitation to speak at an event, an inquiry about her products, and hundreds of video views.

Many others reported that they got their prize early, by arming themselves with bravery, stepping up, and daring to show their worth, whether they won the competition or not.

As in everything, I learned a ton from this experience. These are three specific lessons I learned from this:

Failure is not something you should be ashamed of

Despite making a ton of noise on all my social channels about the campaign, since canceling the campaign I have kept silent. Am I ashamed? Absolutely not. I’m sending out this post after Topher published his, but I didn’t hold off out of shame, but out of utter respect for him and his team.

I think an entrepreneur that fails and folds up is a lot more shameful than one who recognizes where things may have gone wrong, and learns from the experience. We should strive to be strengthened by our victories and failures, our strengths and weaknesses. We all fail, yet we must learn to fail correctly.

During the past couple of weeks, I was interviewed on Entrepreneur on Fire, and I think I spent almost half the time talking about my own struggles and weaknesses. All cool with me. I think people — especially younger entrepreneurs — need to hear that very few things in life and business ever go perfectly.

My outlook in life is that win or lose, I always win. As long as we’re willing to ask ourselves one simple and honest question, we can all be strengthened even when our goals aren’t reached.

Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks

Topher and his team took a huge risk with this competition. My team and I risked pushing other more profitable work — including our own internal initiatives and product development — for something we believed would be an absolute hit. Each and every one of the registered competitors took an immense risk in time and effort to step up and prepare for the competition.

Yet among those three groups, the last thing you will hear is regret. We all seem to get it, we’re all in sync with the grand mission of all entrepreneurs: There’s no way you’ll ever fulfill a dream if you don’t step out and take action.

One of people’s biggest obstacles: they don’t believe in themselves.

I had experienced this truth a few times when speaking to business owners who decide not to hire us, despite us showing them their potential and the specific way to get there. However, never before did I live it quite as powerfully as now.

In marketing, we can do everything to eliminate objections, express our offer powerfully, and give out a helping hand or two. Yet if people decide to get in the way of their own success, no amount of marketing can be strong enough to change a person’s own heart.

It’s unacceptable to respond “I just don’t think I can win” when entering into a business initiative, whether it’s a competition, or even a standard contract negotiation.

What if all your clients refused to hire you because they just don’t think they can win — i.e., ever get their problem solved, even through the solution you offer?

What if you responded “I just don’t think I can win” when observing that your field has other competitors? (News flash: You have other competitors.)

What if Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and many other successful business people had said “I just don’t think I can win” when faced with the first signs of a challenge?

Our world may have been different… or maybe not. Maybe everything would be quite the same, but the names of people who reached success would’ve been those of others who instead said, “I don’t know if I’ll win, but I’ll do it anyway!”

Do you feel you’re holding yourself back from achieving your goals? What are you doing in response to that feeling?

 

Best SuperBowl 2015 Ads, classified by Creative and Strategy

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

SuperBowl 2015 Ads

Did you watch the SuperBowl ads last night? (Everyone knows that the ads matter less than the game. 🙂 ) If so, which were the best SuperBowl 2015 ads?

There’s no need to resurrect the debate on whether the Super Bowl ads are what they used to be 20 or 30 years ago. The fact remains, the largest brands and ad agencies bring out the big guns for one of the events with greater exposure in the USA. They know millions and millions will be watching their 30 second – 1 minute commercials, so they make an effort to pack their very best for the big event.

When discussing which ads were the best, we can do so from many different angles. Most casual viewers will judge by which ad was the funniest, which one made us cry, or which had the biggest and baddest visual effects.

While certainly valid criteria, as business owners and entrepreneurs, we know that these ads are huge investments, and as such are expected to bring in a return. We may never have a chance to peek into these brands’ financials, but what we can do is look at the ads from two very specific points of view:

Creative: Did the ads portray the brand and its unique selling proposition in a unique, different, and memorable manner?

Strategy: Did the ads have a defined strategy, beyond passive “brand awareness”?

Here are what I considered to be the best in each of these two categories:

Creative

Loctite – Positive Feelings

Sure, they didn’t hire Kim Kardashian nor Katy Perry, but rather took the complete opposite approach: Take your average person — fanny packs and all — and have them dancing in an electric music video. It’s the right approach for an “every day” item such as Loctite, as it’s a brand you have laying around your house, until all of a sudden you need an extraordinary function, such as resurrecting your thick-rimmed glasses.

Fiat 500X – Blue Pill

Take an iconic — and somewhat cheeky – symbol of growth as Viagra, and put it in the tank engine of a Fiat as a mishap. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind on what the ad message is: “We don’t just make tiny cars, check out our new larger model.”

Clash of Clans – Revenge

I’m a CoC player, so I admit this is somewhat biased. But let’s be honest, nobody expected to see Liam Neeson, hot on the trails of the third installment of his Taken movie series, protagonizing a SuperBowl ad… For a mobile app?! Yet his character, which is a widespread meme for taking revenge, is the perfect fit for one of the game’s core functions, the ability to take revenge upon real-life players who attack your village.

Snickers – Brady Bunch

In a very noteworthy version of their already-successful “You’re Not You” ad series, Marcia is hungry and stressed out… And turns into MACHETE! Not much to say about this, other than the fact that they successfully took unpredictability to the extremes of the scale. I wouldn’t want to see Danny Trejo demanding Alice for food.

Bud Life – Real Life Pacman #UpForWhatever

Upon seeing this ad, everyone with whom I was watching the SuperBowl last night cried out, “I wanna do that too!” Yes, the majority of them were teens under the age of drinking… but you know what? I said it out loud as well! Whether you’re 48 or 8 years old, you know Pac-Man, and you know it’s a game that’s all about fun and taking losses lightly, which are exactly the brand promises with Bud Light.

The execution of the Pac-Man was quite amazing as well. I just wish the editing weren’t as jarring, but otherwise, I loved the luminescence of the Pac-Man assets, plus how the main actor in the commercial “ate up” the dots by just walking through the maze (whether it was through a real responsive digital floor or not, it still looked pretty cool).

Strategy

Toyota Camry – My Bold Dad

Car ads are a staple of SuperBowl commercial breaks, and ad agencies seem to be running out of ideas on how to sell us on the latest and greatest model. For a model like the Toyota Camry which is meant to be a nice “family vehicle,” going back to the heart of their brand promise was the right approach. Many of the deepest moments between a father and his growing daughter involve transporting her to and fro. The Camry becomes the silent supporting actor in this very important relationship.

It’s worth noticing that Nissan also tried to approach the “dad” angle with their #WithDad SuperBowl 2015 ad, but in my opinion they tried to go too big and ended up losing the essence of what Toyota did so well.

Always – Like A Girl

This just happens to be my favorite advertising spot from 2014, and although they cut it down quite a bit to appear among the SuperBowl 2015 ads, I still love it. It challenges all of us — women and men — to respect and give credit to girls, which is at the root of the Always brand.

Carnival Cruises – Come Back to The Sea

With a voice over of an inspiring speech by president John F. Kennedy, the ad uses powerful visuals — yet notably no background music — to remind us that sea water is an essential part of the human experience. The ad is effective in selling the cruise experience as much more than a boat with all-you-can-eat fun. It’s an intimate encounter with a part of us that, for most of us in urban and sub-urban day-to-day hustles and bustles, is unfortunately a privilege we don’t often have the chance to take part in.

McDonald’s – Pay With Lovin’

For a company that has had trouble making profits in the last few quarters, you’d expect some reinvention on their part. Hard to do, when they’ve planted their stake on the ground as the place to get Big Macs, fries, and McNuggets. Any variances from their usual offerings have been careful and not without risks. In this case, the reinvention comes as a limited-time promotion to pay your order with “lovin'”, with nothing more than hugging your family or calling your mom.

It’s the closest thing to giving their food away for free, and it’s a brilliant activation of their “I’m lovin’ it” tagline.

SquareSpace – Dreaming with Jeff

Jeff Bridges in your bedroom “OM”‘ing while spinning a singing bowl is creepy as creepy can be, but the message is clear. No matter how far-fetched your idea, you can create a website pretty easily for it on SquareSpace. It was one of the few SuperBowl 2015 ads with a strong digital funnel, which allows you to visit the site, listen to the tracks, and download/purchase them if desired, all while showcasing SquareSpace’s ability to offer everything easily.

Budweiser – Brewed the Hard Way

Most people are going to spread love on the Clydesdale spot, but this is the one that I believe took real risks, and approached a relevant market situation.

I’m not a fan of their product, but the strategy is clear — separate the waters between craft beer consumers and “the rest of us.” Criticize them or not, it’s a firm way to plant the foot in an era in which indie beers is actually biting away significantly at the macro beer’s market share.

Which SuperBowl 2015 ads did you like? And under which category would you place them?

Maybe I shouldn’t have written this book…

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

book

If you follow me through any of my social media thingies, you already know I published my first book a few weeks ago. At this point, you might be sick of hearing about BACON — even though you might not understand that it’s a very powerful acronym to launch a business online. That’s OK.

The thing is, maybe I shouldn’t have written this book after all.

A guy like me, the son of Hispanic — Dominican, specifically — immigrants to the US, isn’t supposed to go around writing books — much less in English! — showing people all over the world how to create impactful digital campaigns. As a Hispanic, I was supposed to write a book for Hispanics, and stay in my own corner.

We all know that a guy who grew up in a so-called third-world country is not supposed to base his knowledge on first-hand experience with some of the largest brands on the planet and in our time. I was supposed to limit myself to a small or even micro-business level. I was supposed to “stay humble” like that.

Coming back to the USA as an immigrant — despite being as much a US Citizen as anyone who was born here and never traveled — I wasn’t supposed to shake hands with media legends like Barry Diller, Kevin Harrington, and even Mr T. I was supposed to be content with seeing these people from afar, and stay happy with my lowly condition as a “minority.”

A “little guy” like me wasn’t supposed to get a best-selling author and top influencer like Chris Brogan to write his foreword. No, I was supposed to feel lucky if a local business owner wrote a two-sentence endorsement for me. And that person should have been Hispanic. You know, because only Hispanics support Hispanics. We’re supposed to bow down and keep within our tribes.

Being a Christian for a quarter of a century, very much involved in ministry work since being a teenager, I was supposed to stay within my circle — namely, produce work for other Christians. We’re not supposed to represent ourselves in the “secular world.” That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

A guy with two children and a stable 15-year marriage is not supposed to gain any type of business credibility through a published piece of work. Men like I are supposed to be hard and silent worker bees, supporting our families and using our free time to enjoy sports or watch TV — consuming content — not writing books, blogs, and producing content.

Neither was I supposed to write the book in four months. I was supposed to be another story among many, the guy who starts writing a book and after a few chapters gets too busy with family and work to ever finish it.

If a simple guy like me writes something, he’s supposed to hang it up as an ebook for free download — if people, you know, want to download it and stuff — not publish a book with a real ISBN, barcode, fully registered by the US Library of Congress, available for circulation in any library in the US and any bookstore around the world.

A serial college dropout like me — I very well might hold the record at three college dropouts — is not supposed to write a serious book about business (despite its funny title)… Much less receive an Amazon review like this one: “It’s a complete detailed package on how to build a successful online presence for your business. One thing that truly amazed me was some of the terms used, which I had learned while finishing my MBA. However, the author breaks these down in such a simple and useful manner that it would have saved me countless hours of trying to understand complicated college books.”

I know. To some people I’m a fly-by-night professional, so I shouldn’t have written a book that upon launch landed within the top 30 Business books on iBooks, the #1 Sales and Marketing book on the same platform, and within the top 20 Hot and New Releases on Amazon in the Business/Marketing category. Neither was it supposed be sitting at over 30 (and counting) 5-star reviews, all authentic with no shenanigans. It was all supposed to be an uphill push to get any type of visibility.

By the world’s standards, none of this was supposed to happen.

But despite all odds, it did.

I’m not telling you this to boast or anything. Stating facts cannot be boasting, but on the other hand, hiding the facts would be akin to lying. And all the odds against me — which are very much reflected in the attitudes of many in similar situations as I — are very much factual.

I’m writing this for you, the “little guy” or “little girl” that thinks they’re supposed to chug along with life. For you, the “minority” who is afraid to play outside the boundaries of which their existence you’ve been convinced of. For you, the “family person” that thinks that only single or divorced people would ever have the time to produce valuable content. For you, the one who thinks that you have nothing to offer or teach anyone.

Let me tell you something: You’re not supposed to step out and accomplish great things.

But will you do it anyway?

 

: : : : : : : : : :

 

I’m not a lone rider. None of these accomplishments would ever be possible without some really valuable people that I am blessed to have in my life.

First off, Christ my Lord. Everything extraordinary comes because of Him.

My wife and my children, for being so patient and holding onto the vision.

My mom and my siblings, for believing in me despite being the outlier — another way to say, the ugly duckling.

My friends and my church family for being so supportive and mature in all things.

My mentors Topher Morrison and Daniel Priestley, and my accountability partner Gabe Aluisy. They carved the formula to GSD.

Finally, my Book Launch Team, a very special group of supporters and cheerleaders who pushed me through the final stages of publishing my book. There are many people among this group I should thank, but the ones that stand out are: Tony Rodríguez, Claudia Aquino, Alfonso Núñez, Katherine Calderón, Eli Gonzalez, Leo Nadal, Aurora Tactuk, Joe Clay, Joe Melendez, Gabriel Aluisy, Yoly Cerón, Laura Patricia Felix, Stefany Baez, Amaury Pumarol, Angel Ramirez, Julissa Contín, George Muñoz, Bolivar Baez, Ernesto Valdes, Laura Mustafá, José Ramírez, David Rodriguez, Erycka Mateo, Luis Julian, Miguel Quezada, Abel García, CJ Rivas, Ignaura Tejeda, Luis Gil, Ligia Carrión, Khalil Delmonte, Manuel Batista, Ivette Díaz and Baltasar Alí González. Although I’m mentioning your names in a list, rest assured each one of you have shown a very special kind of support towards me, and I will not forget any of you.

 

How To Produce Creative Assets (Process + Workflow)

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

Are you putting together a digital strategy, and are needing some assets produced? Even if you intend to hire someone else to help you produce them, it helps to understand the typical processes to end up with an accurate and functional asset.

How_To_Produce_Creative

In this post, I describe a summary of the processes to develop four of the most typical types of assets that will be used in a digital strategy. Wherever it makes sense, I will give some of my best creative tips to develop each media at the highest level.

Please know that there is no way I can cover every possible scenario in one post. For example, while I cover a typical web production process, it may need to be adjusted depending on the specific goals you’re trying to achieve. Also, some teams and professionals may prefer to work in a different manner than what is outlined here.

These process recommendations are simply meant to be guidelines, not a legal system! What I show you here has worked for me throughout the years. As long as the goals are met successfully, and the process is broken down in a manner that makes sense and moves along smoothly, any necessary departures from what is recommended here are completely fine.

Web Production: Process

|  Design  |  Alpha  |  Beta  |  User-Testing  |  Cross-browser testing  |

Design. Based on the information defined at the pre-production stage, the web production process begins with the design stage. Here, the user interface and all visual elements come to life.

The two main questions that should be asked, and responded in the affirmative, for any design elements destined for the web are:

  1. Is there strict adherence to the creative and brand guidelines set during the prior phases?
  2. Does the design support all functional goals set in our Strategy?

Of course, there are many other criteria to judge our design by, not the least of which is that the design should be tasteful and current. However, even if — for some strange creative reason — it is consciously decided that the design should be tasteless and aged, the two questions above must be replied to in the affirmative.

At this stage, most of the elements involved in a good design should have already been determined and accounted for in the pre-production phase. At this point, all that is needed is to arrange those elements to fulfill the functional goals established in your strategy.

In recent years, a large community of designers have agreed that, with the prevalence of mobile web-enabled devices that currently exist, it makes more sense to design for these devices first. From there, the design can expand to account for larger views, such as desktop browsers. This is why we’ve seen many desktop user interfaces in our day with strong tendencies towards much more simplistic design.

There is also much that can be said about designing towards sites that convert, which may go beyond the scope of this article. If there is only one helpful guideline I can suggest to you, is to keep one goal on the forefront of every design, even though there may be several items a user can interact with. What is the one item you most want users to interact with, to press on, or to fill in, during any particular stage of their experience?

By keeping one singular goal in mind, your designs will immediately embody a completely higher level of clarity, than if you focused on 15 different options at the same time and with the same level of emphasis. Users only focus on one thing at a time! Let them decide where to go; but through design, tell them what you, as a friendly guide, recommend they do.

Alpha site. After the design is squared away, a site will be coded and styled to begin seeing it take life from within a web browser. Many of the elements will not yet be functional, but the user interface design will at least be present at this point.

Beta site. After the issues in the Alpha Site are addressed, it’s time to apply those changes on the site, as well as complete any pending functionality goals that were left aside. After the Beta stage is complete, a new fully-functional site will be produced as a result, ready for final user testing.

User testing. The Beta site will then be presented to other users; in most cases, to people who haven’t been involved in the process up to this point. Their honest opinions of the user experience will be recorded, and any issues that come to surface will be addressed. This is a very important stage to gauge if our web experience is attractive and lends itself to the kind of interactions we’re seeking.

Cross-Browser testing. Once the site is ready to go live, a round of testing on numerous browsers and versions, devices, and operating systems begins. This ensures that users can experience our site correctly, regardless of which browser they use. Before the site goes live, issues observed through any of the browsers can be corrected.

Application Production: Process

|  Wireframe/Protosite  |  Database building  |  UI  |  Design | Alpha  |   Beta  |  Testing  |

Wireframes. For desktop, web, and mobile applications, a concise and natural layout of all user interface elements could be the deciding factor that makes your audience members use it successfully, or just walk away frustrated. One way to ensure your interface design is reasonable and logical is to draw up wireframes. These will be simple draft sketches of the layouts required to include all functional elements. No styling concerns of any sort should be a hindrance here, as all we need to focus on is space and distribution of elements.

Make sure to build enough wireframes for every state of the user experience, including panels, windows, and dialogs that may appear and disappear at certain times. Any elements that are not accounted for in the wireframe stage, are usually the ones which end up becoming a problem to shoehorn in later on.

A protosite is an extremely simplified, yet interactive (to a certain extent) version of what will become the fully fleshed-out application. This allows developers and decision-makers to interact with the application concept way before the hours and resources are poured into developing it.

Database building. In this stage, the databases needed for each required component are created and structured appropriately. This should be performed by a database specialist, as it will lay a crucial foundation for handling data later when the application is being tested, and of course, after it goes live.

Design. The user interface style is then produced, which will dictate the visual and interactive considerations necessary for the application functions. The design’s “look and feel” is not the only important aspect at this stage, but also how well it supports the desired functionality. In other words, the design must be informed by your brand, as well as by the important actions you desire your user to take.

Alpha. A pretty complete version of the application is then produced, although at this point many of the functions are left for a later stage. The purpose of the Alpha is to proceed to a stage of development in which the application can be interacted with to begin testing how well the user interface design supports the desired functionality. As user interface elements may not be associated with the database at this point, it should be evaluated from that standpoint (i.e.: don’t freak out if it doesn’t quite function!).

Beta. Once necessary changes are made to the Alpha stage, the developers proceed to ensure that all functionality is in place, and respond correctly to the user interface design. As this stage occurs right before the final testing phase, the Beta needs to be as close as possible to the final user-ready version.

Testing. Once the application reaches Beta stage, it is assumed that most of the issues have been ironed out, and the app is ready to go live. However, a testing phase provides one more safeguard for the application to be completely clear of any problems. Up until the Beta phase, it may be acceptable to test the application in a virtual/simulated environment. However, the testing phase is ideally performed on the actual platforms the user will interact with the application on.

Video Production: Process

|  Script  |  Storyboard  |  Animatic  |  Shoot  |  Editing  |   Preview  |  Output  |

Script. Based on the video concept, all dialog is laid out on a sheet, with visual descriptions associated to each segment. Every element displayed, including words spoken and concepts visually represented, are examined carefully to see that there is strict adherence to the desired message and the brand essence.

Storyboard. Once the script is formalized, you may want to produce a storyboard, which are merely sketches of each set up involved in the final production. If the shoot involved one or two camera angles and a single host, you may opt to skip the storyboard. Otherwise, if the production is much more complex, a storyboard could become an essential planning aid to avoid issues further on in the process.

Animatic. After the storyboards are produced, your editor might want to consider laying the frames out in a timeline, in sync with a music track and/or scratch track. This step helps evaluate the timing and sequencing of the final piece, before investing in shooting and editing.

Shoot. As the name implies, this is the phase in which cameras are brought out, and all talent involved does their part in the right setting, whether it be a studio, or an indoors/outdoors location. With current technology, footage will typically be stored onto some type of digital media device.

Editing. The footage from the shoot is then transferred (some people use the word “ingested,” which I personally hate) onto a larger media storage center, which an editing software can then access to begin selecting and laying out onto a timeline. The timing and selection process will be informed by the script, storyboard, and animatic, whichever of those phases are actually performed. Graphics are also produced and added in at this stage, as needed.

Preview. Once the footage, audio, and graphics make sense with regard to the script and original purpose of the video, a lower-resolution output is performed to be sent and evaluated by any team members involved.

Output. If no further revisions are needed, the video is then output into its final required format. In digital media, the final file format and compression type will depend on the device and environment in which it will be viewed by end users.

Graphics Production: Process

|  Concept/Sketch  |   Scanning/Digitizing  |  Outlining  |  Coloring  |  Finishing  |  Output  |

Concept/Sketch. Most of the greatest examples in graphic design begin with rough renditions using the most rudimentary of tools, such as pencil and paper… even paper napkins! One of my favorite techniques is to sketch as small as possible. This forces me to focus on form and composition, rather than on details that will come in later.

Scanning/Digitizing. Unless your piece is meant to have a very manual, traditional art look, at some point you will want to look into scanning and importing it into some type of image editing software. Once there, you can use standard tools for cleaning up and enhancing your visual idea.

Outlining. Once the digital scans have been imported, the main shapes can be converted to vector outlines for further editing. Even in the case of graphics comprised of solid objects, it helps to begin with a digital outline and then fill them in. The best outlines are a combination of software processes (to save time) and manual work (to ensure quality).

Coloring. Defining a color palette could make the difference between a design that has a sense of order, from one that feels all over the place and random. Choose 5 – 6 colors from which to begin, and then expand from there as needed. Remember that color proportions play a big part in the piece’s final look and feel; a good idea is to compose color palette cheat sheets with shapes of different colors and sizes, each one representing the proposed color proportion.

Finishing. Once the shapes, composition, and colors are defined, it’s time to add finishing touches, such as shadows, outlines, and other details that have purposefully been left for later phases. Other questions that could be asked at this point: Do shapes need to be refined? Does color need to be addressed one final time? Is there any photography involved that needs to be reviewed, or maybe secured rights for? At this phase, it is also common to test the graphic on actual screen output, such as desktop and mobile browsers, and check on how well it’s holding up.

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This article complements my book, Digital BACON, in which I describe the five qualities of a successful digital effort, and the process to incorporate them. Check out more details about my book here: http://digitalbaconbook.com

The top secret trick I use to charge at least 25% higher than my competitors

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

Do you want to learn a simple trick I use to charge more than my competitors do, yet still close business deals left and right? Read on and I’ll tell you.

Now… why would I be so crazy to give away this secret? Simple reason: Even if I tell you, a very small portion of you will believe me and do this for your own businesses… Which is great for me (I explain below why).

Now, If you’re one of the very few that goes ahead and applies this tip to your business, then congrats! You deserve every bit of success.

Allow me to explain…

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3 things Godzilla 2014 taught me about creating awesome content

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

The new film version of Godzilla 2014 has premiered, and I simply cannot wait to watch it. Aside from the fantastic acting that I’m sure Bryan Cranston will delight us with, the cinematography in the trailers just looks fantastic and true to the original (very much unlike the 1998 bore-fest by the same name). Godzilla is here, it’s huge, and it’s scary as it should be.

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The movie’s publicity team has been doing a great job of keeping the subject afloat, with a precisely-timed teaser that barely revealed the monster’s face, up to the more recent ones in which more of its features are shown. I’m sure it will be a complete smash early enough before the usual Summer Blockbuster season.

Now, I believe we can use anything as an inspiration for good creativity. The question I want to entertain for a bit is: What can we learn from Godzilla from a content development point of view? Here are three thoughts:

1- Godzilla is a fantastic example of evergreen content.

The gnarly monster’s first appearance was in the predictably-titled film “Godzilla,” from 1954. Since then, the world has never again been the same. Even though Daikaiju (“Giant Monster”) films have existed since the King Kong era, there was a celebrity status written all over the giant lizard.

However, something about it caters to our natural fears and sense of insecurity, in such a way that the Godzilla concept refuses to get old. Even the older movies are remembered by younger generations as if they grew up with them. The impending success of the 2014 version of the movie will be due to a very simple fact: Nobody needs to be convinced that Godzilla is a household name. It already is, therefore the newer derivations will be consumed.

I doubt the original creators could imagine that 60 years later, we would be discussing Godzilla as if it were a completely familiar concept to us.

If you’re generating content for long-term results, don’t overlook this fact. You’re better off sticking with content that won’t look or feel old after a year or two.

Lesson: Nothing says you cannot create content that resists the test of time, so don’t purposefully block it from happening.

2- Godzilla is an example of a strong identity.

There are certain changes and updates you can make to Godzilla’s identity, but if you go too far, it crosses the line into becoming just another Kaiju. In fact, this was the main gripe against the 1998 film: It was not upright enough, its muzzle was too long, it looked too much like a crocodile, etc.. From what we can tell from the trailers, even though the 2014 version looks different than the 1954 version, it still managed to preserve the main identity components that bring it instant recognition.

When Godzilla came out in 1954, as goofy as its special effects seem to us today, it had the “it” factor. There was a unique identity to it. Even the screeching/roaring sound, created through very rudimentary means during its origins, saw its way into most of the Japanese versions of the films.

My children say that they will shout with joy if in the 2014 version, they get to see Godzilla shooting its famous luminescent blue ray from its mouth, and in the same turn will be disappointed if it doesn’t. Without each of these elements, Godzilla loses a bit of its identity. It becomes Superman without the cape, Mickey Mouse without the round ears, or Bart Simpson with his hair slicked back instead of the jaggy points on top.

When creating content, we need to be aware of which brand we’re writing under —whether a corporate voice, or a personal/professional brand — and then our content decisions need to be curated beneath that. Anything that departs too much is going to break the perception in your audience’s mind that this is coming from the same source they signed up for, and may alienate a good number of them.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to build your branded content with a strong sense of identity; but once you do, be very careful about making drastic changes to it.

3- Godzilla is popular because it appeals to our emotions.

This monster has got the “larger than life” motto down pretty well. Something about seeing Godzilla walking through streets and tearing down building after building appeals to our deepest feelings of frailty and insecurity. At the same time, its sheer magnitude makes us look upward in awe. It’s almost the same sense of amazement we felt when we were children and found out about dinosaurs for the very first time;
only much scarier, and therefore more real to us.

The creators of each Godzilla film don’t hide their intentions, they’re right there in the open. The big fanfare soundtrack, fire and explosions, massive destruction, everything is built in a way to appeal to emotions we all know you feel. They can direct their film decisions towards these emotions without shame because they know there’s no way they can be wrong about what you’re feeling.

When we generate content that will be processed emotionally rather than intellectually, there’s no reason we need to be subtle about it. Be as clear as you need to be. The more genuine your intention, the better chances of actually identifying with your audience at a deep level.

Lesson: Build content that is emotionally appealing, and be bold about making your intentions clear.

Can you think of any other ideas or takeaways from Godzilla? Add some of your own ideas in the comments.

What is Creative Strategy, and why does it matter?

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

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“So what is this “Creative Strategy” thing all about? Is it just another buzzword?”

When trying to communicate a special message, with the goal of influencing others in some manner, the two main issues people and businesses struggle with are:

Struggle #1- How can they compose a message that is clear, relevant, and stands out above the noise?

In this age of information literally moving at the speed of light, anyone trying to communicate has to fight against an enormous giant: An incredible volume of information and content all competing at the same time for people’s attention. Our message can have the potential to transmit an amazing level of value, and still be buried under a daunting number of options our target audience needs to weed through to perceive it. A few facts that might surprise you:

It is apparent that communicating a valuable message, and outputting that message as forcefully and strategically as possible, is no longer enough in the current technology landscape.

Struggle #2- What can they do to ensure their message is effectively received?

At the same time, being original and unique is no longer anything to be proud of if our message reaches a very small segment of our intended audience. Many genius ideas have died in the dark alleys of obsolescence or invisibility. However, placing a sign with the highest available exposure, like an amazingly expensive ad on the ground of the World Soccer Cup field, is just not an option for the great majority of businesses.

In most cases, businesses won’t be able to leverage capital to gain exposure, and a highly-creative message often does very little on its own to expand its reach. However, these same businesses tend to put all their focus on these two elements (capital and creativity), while forgetting another essential component entirely.

These two problems can be very strong obstacles to overcome, and when they’re not overcome, they’ve crippled some of the greatest businesses and initiatives around the globe. So what is the solution?

Now that you understand the problems, I would like to invite you to read the solution I propose, which I’ve made available as an easy-to-read ebook. All you need to do is input your email address on the right side (or on the bottom if you’re on a mobile device), and I’ll send it to you right away for free.

Update: Sorry! The Creative Strategy Manifesto is no longer available for free. It will be rewritten, expanded and published soon.

In the meantime, if you haven’t done so, feel free to download The Attraction Checklist for free! Just sign up and I’ll send it to your email inbox.

Ask this simple question, and you will grow (guaranteed).

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

”Am I smart or dumb?” “Am I a success or a failure?” “Am I a hard-working individual, or a lazy person?”

Nope, none of these questions are candidates for what I mention in the title of this post. However, the reality is that we spend our whole lives constantly asking this type of question. Maybe many of you — as has certainly happened to me — have been asked similar questions by others. We are being judged by ourselves and by others for what we are, placing labels coming from who-knows-where.

The problem with this type of questions is that they simply do not push us towards growing, maturing, nor moving forward. By the way, it doesn’t matter if these questions paint us in a positive or negative light, the result is the same: Stagnation.

For example, if I’m labeled as a failure, making an effort to change won’t matter, because it’s useless; I am who I am. But in the same measure, if I’m a success, it’s also not necessary to make any efforts, because I’ve already reached the top of the mountain, the goal in the race, and there really is nothing left to do.

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Sometimes you will fail… here’s how to fail correctly.

Posted by Alex Rodríguez

The other day, I was remembering this post, in which the author complains that nobody out there is explaining n00bs how to use Twitter. The short version of the whole story is that there’s this someone who gathered a crazy number of followers through his/her name recognition, and not exactly his/her activity on Twitter. Now that person is not sure how to get into using the tool and begin capitalizing their amazing number of followers for business use. Read the above-linked post for the full profanity-laden lowdown on the author’s cries.

First of all, let’s clear up the big issue brought up: supposedly there are no people online explaining how to use Twitter, which is total garbage. Tutorials a-plenty on the web on how to use Twitter.CommonCraft has put out some excellent videos that serve as a Twitter 101, including this one on the basics,  and this other one on Twitter Search.  Mashable has a whole section of their site dedicated to learning how to use it. All these options are free, but if you want to shell out some cash just to feel better about yourself, Lynda.com has an excellent walkthrough (I think it costs around $30). Other than these, there are a bunch of excellent blogs out there that constantly give out updated insights.

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