Two Monday Worries starts your week off right, tracking troubling tales trending in design, advertising, and ethics.
1. Why A Salad Costs More Than A Big Mac
The Farm Bill, a massive piece of federal legislation making its way through Congress, governs what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.
The government also purchases surplus foods like cheese, milk, pork, and beef for distribution to food assistance programs—including school lunches. The government is not required to purchase nutritious foods.
Read the whole article here.
2. Sergey Brin on Google's China Decision
I don't actually think the question of whether this was the Chinese government or not is all that important. I know that seems strange. The Chinese government has tens of millions of people in it, and if you look at the associated army and whatnot it's even larger. It's larger than most countries by far. So even if there were a Chinese government agent behind this, it might represent a fragment of policy, as it were. There are many people there, and they have different views.
If you look at when we entered China with our Chinese operation in 2006, I actually feel like things really improved in the subsequent years. And I know there was a lot of controversy surrounding it, when we had to self-censor a fair amount, but we were actually able to censor less and less, and our local competitors there also censored less and less. We from the outside provided notification when the local laws prevented us from showing information, and the local competitors followed suit in that respect. So I feel like our entry made a big difference. But things started going downhill, especially after the Olympics. And there's been a lot more blocking going on since then. Also our other sites, YouTube and whatnot, have been blocked. And so the situation really took a turn for the worse.
Read Google's original statement on China here, and watch the whole interview here.
It's Thursday once again. Take a brisk walk through the leaves with Four Design Links.
1. The Battle Over Good SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned.
That's the start of this blog post from Derek Powazek which is currently causing all manner of controversy in SEO circles. He says some things I believe many web professionals have been thinking and I can't help but agree with his conclusion: If you want people to find you make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again..
Danny Sullivan, an SEO professional, has crafted this defense of SEO, which I also like. He shares some of Powazek's concerns, but is careful to draw the important distinction between bad or spammy SEO and good/legitimate SEO.
Both posts may be worth a read if you are new to SEO or just want to brush up on best (and worst) practices before your next job or client meeting.
It's Thursday and you know what that means: you've got an appointment with Four Design Links!
The top slot this week goes to the Webtrendmap beta. Essentially, it aggregates the top re-blogged stories from trusted sources, so you get only the cream of the crop.
I like it so far because the trusted sites seem to be weighted towards designers and, in the limited time I've spent with the site, their picks seem pretty good.
Also, the interface is unique. As I understand it, you can make your own "maps", plotting trends across two axes or even locations. I confess, I'm not sure how that part works, but it's intriguing.
The future of search is social (as opposed to machine) filtering. This fact is yet another nail in the coffin for old branding strategy.
I wrote on Monday about the role of social networking in new brands: about how much value it can add to your brand, and in particular about why some companies have trepidations about employing it. I argued that these trepidations are a consequence of a sort of means-end confusion. Specifically I argued that because of a long historical tradition, many people have conflated visual control with the trust relationships it has been used to engender.
Today, I'd like to add a corollary to that discussion about what this means for companies in terms of the kinds of policies that their brands underwrite.
There's a nice little article at Micropersuasion that touches on this with the slogan, "trusted search trumps untrusted search." What this means, to ape a bit from a good comment on the article, is that the only way for Google to ensure quality search results is "to assume that all URLs [are] spam, and require them to 'earn' their place" in the index. Call that machine filtering. The 'earning' algorithm can get smarter, but the core principle can't.
Now, enter some potential future of deeply searchable social networks: since the search is built on top of a network of trusted sources, the 'earning' algorithm for finding information is already better than the best possible machine algorithm, because it is reliant on a trusted set of human filters. Call this a social filter.
Coca Cola loses my trust.
What this means for brands is that their future success depends on being able to persuade not just a clever algorithm, but large network of individuals, including individual network influencers, of the value of their content. What this means is that they're going to have to develop trust. I spent two weeks in December arguing that the only way to do this was to make and keep meaningful promises.
Social networking is just another bit of writing on the wall that the various old-world advertising and promising models are dead, dead, dead.
Are concerns about social media as a kind of branding motivated by a simple means-end confusion?
A brand exists for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important of these is to develop a psychological relationship between a person and a product. Every brand does this. From the beginning of branding straight up to the not-too-distant past, the way that brands worked was to build consumer confidence through repetition: by providing stylistic consistency, brands reassured customers that the products under their umbrella were similarly consistent in quality (and therefore trustworthy), and thus eventually became symbols for contracts regularly fulfilled. By employing advertising to regularly alert potential customers to the various products and services a brand represented, brands became part of the wallpaper of American life in the form of billboards and television and magazine advertisements. It was a pretty good strategy for quite a long time, but then along came the Internet.
"A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it..." — Andy Warhol
Controlling the ways a potential customer experiences and identifies your products has always been the heart of branding. But what happens when brands have to give up some of that control?
On Saturday, I proposed something to ponder over the weekend. Namely, I suggested that we all think, over the weekend about the possibilities of a brand and design strategy that takes into account multiple degrees of control, in the various registers of user experience.
This is a deep and complicated question, and whatever strategies will be used to resolve it will likely involve brand strategies that are downright alien to the ones we know today. Why this might necessarily be the case, I thought, may give us some deeper insight into moving forward on this difficult problem. After all, diagnosis is one thing, treatment is another.
Apple, Branding, Cheez Flavored Crackers, Context, Control, Design Ethics, Futurama, Jonathan Salem Baskin, Microsoft, Mike Krol, Search, Seth Godin, Strategy, Tribes|
has something for you to ponder this weekend: How can your brand address multiple registers of user experience — with multiple degrees of controllability?
Jonathan Baskin wrote an interesting post over at his Dim Bulb blog last Wednesday, about the relationship between brands in a search-driven world. His contention is that "search is the anti-brand," by which he means that while "corporate marketing is still focused on optimizing search terms to promote the stuff of branding, consumers are already past that step."
I would argue that even if there's a real trend to support this particular piece of hyperbole, it's not exactly time to throw in the towel on old-style declarative brands, at least in most industries (e.g. Nick's cheez-flavored crackers: ain't nobody increasing the profit margins on these with an internet search. Now, a catchy jingle...).
Nevertheless, Baskin is making an important point: The climate is changing, and there are contexts in which potential customers interact with a brand, which aren't subject to a traditionally branded experience. The challenge for designers inside of this climate is to evaluate potential responses to sort of brand DMZs. Which is exactly his point.
From where I'm standing, though, we can't just throw the baby out with the bathwater. Traditional branding techniques are still relevant, and I believe will continue to be for the near future. They are going to provide the substratum for user experience in a variety of contexts, even if they don't work exactly the same way they used to.
Hence, your weekend ponderable: Meditate on the possibilities of a brand and design strategy that takes into account the multiple degrees of control possible in the various registers of user experience.
Google's new beta application can provide small businesses with a look at local trends in search...and possibly a competitive edge.
If you haven't checked out Google Insights yet, and you run a website, you probably should. The idea behind Insights is that you can compare and evaluate a handful of metrics — volume, regional interest, top search terms — on search results, given a particular topic and/or geographical area. For example, I took a look at the search patterns and volume in my area (Omaha) for "web design," a key item on the DLB menu, and promptly established that we're in the wrong business.
This is clearly an unproductive metric. (From top: Generic search term, generic search term, generic search term, generic search term, indicator that people are uninterested in paying for service, indicator that people are uninterested in paying for service, generic search term.)
All glibness aside, Insights could certainly be used smartly to provide agile firms with a real-time look at trends in their geographical areas. These trends could be used to indicate growth markets, and this information could inform rapid-SEO strategies (aka. blog post keywords).