NextStage Member Tools Explained

For anybody keeping track, here are our current tool offerings to NextStage Members. We keep adding tools as they become available and will update this list periodically. Some tools require training, some tools require our tracking code be on a digital property, some tools are so new they don’t have their own icons yet.

For those who don’t know, NextStage Membership costs $250US/year. There are lots of other benefits. Come play with our toys. They’re lots of fun and so are we.


Posted in Ad Placement, Age Persuader, Analytics, Audience Finder, BlueSky Meter, Client Prospector, Compatibility Gauge, Entrepreneur Gauge, Experience Optimizer, Gender Persuader, Immediate Sentiment, Job Prospector, Looking Glass, Love Finder, Love Jones, Marketing, NeuroPrint, NextStageology, OnSite, PersonaScope, Political Analyzer, Political Reader, Predictive, Predictive Echo, Resume Rater, SampleMatch, Sentiment Analysis, Social Interferometer, TargetTrack, Tools, Veritas Gauge, {C,B/e,M}sTagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Looking for Love? Now You Can Find All the Right Places!
(On the Evolution of Tools)


The NextStage LoveJones ToolI published What Kind of Lover Are You (And Can You Improve)? on That Think You Do and introduced The NextStage LoveJones Tool (NSLJ)1 last Friday (2 Dec 2011).

History

There’s a bit of history behind that tool, some of which is documented in How Do You Define ‘Love’?. In a nutshell, several years back a personals site asked if we could produce a tool that would determine if people would fall in lust. They called it “love” and when we talked with them at length their greater interest was lust.

Lust — or Erotic love — is immediate, tends to be satisfying due to its extreme psychosensual and endorphin stimulating nature (sex is good exercise in case you didn’t know) and — the best part as far as personals sites are concerned — lustful relationships tend to be temporary. Participants tend to tire of each other quickly because once you get past the magic whumpa whumpa there’s not much holding the relationship together. I should also point out that there’s lots of studies indicating 17-30yos primarily want this kind of relationship (sometimes called “f’ckbuddies”) and an analysis of TXT traffic in this age group bears this out. This generation’s momentary pairings purely for tension release make my generation’s barhopping look lame.

The goal of most personals sites is to have people return frequently to queue up for their next go-round. Long term relationships don’t generate a lot of income for personals sites. Yes, they advertise successful long term pairings because the majority of people frequenting such sites are in a state of “hope”, hence market to that hope.

The reality is that such sites profit when people fall in and out of lust or like and definitely not love. The personals sites’ goals, in other words, is to have people make long term commitments to the site, not to people they’ve met through the site because such sites don’t profit if you find the love of your life, they only profit if you find the love of your night, week or month at best.

Anyway, determining such things was beyond ET’s2 ability at the time. However, developing ET-based tools that determined people’s suitability for each other seemed so doable that we kept returning to it through the years.

aHA! Moments

NextStage OnSite Visitor Analysis ToolEventually we figured it out. We didn’t realize we had figured it out at first. We got our first inkling that the problem was solved when we released our NextStage OnSite3 (NSOS) demo. Normally NextStage OnSite reports on visitor activity en masse. The breakthrough was in isolating and reporting on unique visitors.

aHA!Isolating and reporting on unique visitors wasn’t a breakthrough so much as it was a remembering of how ET was originally purposed; to help individual students better understand course material. That form of ET monitored some highly specific aspects of memory and cognition of individual visitors/students. It was while modifying those ET elements for a specific NSOS client that we had our aHA! moment.

We had lots of data (both our own and from a variety of other researchers) on how the brain maps “love” to specific regions, to what degree, at what levels and so on. All that was necessary on our end was to develop the neuromathematics that translated those neural firings to psychomotor behavioral cues (both gross and fine) and then test test test.

Meanwhile, Back at the Barn…

NextStage SampleMatchWhile this was going on, we released our NextStage SampleMatch Tool4. Whenever we release a new tool we get lots of emails about how that tool could be used, specifically how it could be used in ways we never thought of.

Case in point,

Can your SampleMatch tool show me where I’ll find people I’ll like, maybe even someone to fall in love with? …

Well…that wasn’t what it was designed for, and…hmm…yes, it could.

More accurately, it could give you an idea where you’ll find like-minded people, people you’re most likely to get along with.

So while we were testing testing testing the NextStage LoveJones tool we also realized some it’s outputs could be used as inputs to our SampleMatch tool and, as they say…

…the Quest Was On!

NextStage PersonaScope reveals details about individual thinking patterns, behaviors and motivationsOne of the things NextStage LoveJones determines (although it doesn’t report it) is the user’s RichPersona5. RichPersonae are reported by NextStage PersonaScope (NSPS).

Using myself as a test subject, I ran an earlier version of this post through PersonaScope tool to get an idea of how I was thinking, behaving, responding, what was motivating me and so on. NextStage’s PersonaScope tool indicated that I was a V9 RichPersona (Personality Type). This is also known as an ENTJ in some psych profiling systems.

NextStage's PersonaScope thinks evaluated me as a V9 Personality TypeBut a V9? I know a lot about V9 RichPersona/Personality Types because PersonaScope tool tells me a great deal about such things. Basically, at that moment in time and based on what I’d been doing at that point in time, I wasn’t a pleasant person to be around6. Note: We suggest PersonaScope users prevent one bad piece from dominating an analysis of themselves or others by gathering several pieces together into one file, say some emails or blog posts written over several months, maybe 7-10 total, then put them through PersonaScope.

NextStage's RichPersonae Wheel - Click for larger imageMoving ever onward, the next step was to take a look at NextStage’s RichPersonae Wheel. Not quite a Wheel of Fortune and perhaps close in this case. (Note that the image on the right is a simplified version of our RichPersonae Wheel)

For the purposes of using SampleMatch to find a soul mate, life partner, significant other, special someone, …, the next question is “Do I believe Likes attract or do I believe Opposites attract?”

This question is significant because Likes versus Opposites indicates where you should look on the wheel to determine the RichPersonae of those significant others.

Likes Attract - Click for larger imageLet’s say for our example that you learn you’re an A19 Personality Type and you believe Likes attract. You should look for people with A18, A19 and A20 Rich Personae. People with Rich Personae further and further away from A19 are increasingly less likely to make an A19 personality type happy.

Opposites Attract - Click for larger imageUnless, of course, you believe that opposites attract. Opposites attracting allows our A19 personality type to select from a V6, V7 and V8 personality types.

Therefore the next question in the queue is “Is this user a like or opposite type of person?” That’s actually determined in the RichPersonae. My (at that time) V9 RichPersona was very much an opposites attract type of person. Our A19 example is a likes attract type of person.

The Need to KISS

Possible Attractions - Click for larger imageAt this point we sat back a bit. “Okay, we need the visitor to first use PersonaScope to determine their RichPersona, then they need to know if the response indicates a Like or Opposite personality type, then how to map the response to either a “Likes” or “Opposites” on the RichPersonae Wheel, then what? Are we going to ask them to breakdance on their tablets while singing the Oratorio from Carmen? Backwards? In Spanglish?”

We realized that yes, requiring users/visitors to navigate such a solution path violated our own rules and observations regarding how people use tools (not just ours, everybodies’). The best way to get the largest number of people to use anything is to KISS, the “Keep It Simple, Smeadley” rule that’s on each of our tools as Use: Pure and simple, you login, [either upload a file or enter an URL], click on submit and get your result. Clean, quick, simple and neat because we like it that way.

Eventually we decided that ET could figure all this out and without asking the user any questions at all, simply report back the most likely geographic locations where the user might find compatible life-partners. No questions, only results.

And the Winner Is…

Introducing The NextStage LoveFinderSo we developed The NextStage LoveFinder (NSLF) that automatically performs all the steps outlined above. Literally, all you need to do is login and it determines where on the globe you’re most likely to find compatible life-partners.

So if you notice any mass migrations over the next few years…

And we’re also waiting to see if there are certain places where anyone is most likely to be lucky.

The above, by the way, is how tools evolve here at NextStage; either clients make a request or ask a question and we’re off, or sometimes we just go exploring because we’re researchers and that’s what we like to do.

Currently we’re working on two new tools, one directly requested by a NextStage member and the other hinted at by another NextStage member (although they didn’t know it at the time).

And we continue to improve all our existing tools, too.

Busy us, yes?

True TriQuatro

Beta tests and current use of NextStage LoveJones are indicating that culture plays a great role in how people interact with their partners. Fascinating stuff, this, we thinks!


The NextStage LoveJones Tool1 – The NextStage LoveJones tool measures a bunch of factors and determine what, if anything, the user could do to improve their relationship with their life-partner(s).

2 – If you’re new to this blog or NextStage in general, ET is Evolution Technology, something we designed and developed, now being used in over 70 countries worldwide, and is capable of determining and responding to human thoughts through any human-machine interface.

NextStage OnSite Visitor Analysis Tool3NextStage OnSite is a site visitor analysis tool that provides qualitative and quantitative information about visitors well beyond traditional analytics. OnSite even evaluates bounces and lets you know why visitors bounced. OnSite requires only that a simple JavaScript tag be inserted between the </BODY> and </HTML> tag on each page you want monitored. The basic version consists of thirty reports that determine various psychological (“{C,B/e,M} matrix” or “cognitive, behavioral/effective and motivational”) factors about visitors, all of which provide suggestions for improving site conversion. You can learn more on the NextStage OnSite About page.

NextStage SampleMatch4NextStage SampleMatch (NSSM) analyzes NextStage OnSite data collected worldwide and determines the RichPersonae of geographic regions. Clients use this location specific RichPersonae information to insure their marketing material is designed correctly for the available audience.

NextStage PersonaScope reveals details about individual thinking patterns, behaviors and motivations5 – “RichPersona” is the high level concept of an individual {C,B/e,M} (Cognitive, Behavioral/effective, Motivational) matrix. People are always demonstrating how they think (“Cognitive”), how they act based on how they think (“Behavioral/effective), and how how they think motivates (“Motivational”) them to behave as they do. NextStage currently indices 144 RichPersona for most cultures although that number can be significantly higher for specific audiences (east Asian audiences, for example). NextStage’s PersonaScope (NSPS) tool analyzes material and reports RichPersona in depth.

6 – It’s probably worth knowing that we eat our own dog food here at NextStage, so to speak. I took a moment to determine if I really was demonstrating V9 characteristics and yes, I was. Okay, time to put things down or away and go take care of myself so that I would be a better person to be with for both myself and those around me.

I realized my schedule at the time was somewhat harried and that I was putting demands on myself that were both unnecessary and excessive, nor was it making life much fun for everybody else. I took control back and feel better for it (and I’m told so do those around me).

NextStage Tool Previews in the Members Area

I mentioned in Next Tool Releases from NextStage that we’d be releasing some new tools in the coming months, some of which are being previewed in the NextStage Members area (probably a good reason to become a member, access to tools in the development stage, a chance to shape them before release, discounts on their use thereafter, …)

  • NSPM – NextStage PersonaMap works much like NSPS – NextStage PersonaScope in that it determines behavioral, psychological, cognitive and strategy factors of individuals. It is different in that it uses data collected by NSOS – NextStage OnSite rather than having you submit an individual’s material for analysis. NextStage PersonaMap lists some industries ET has knowledge of, you pick one and it reports how web, print and video material should be designed to capture that audience and what traits any personae should have if designed for this audience. It also lists known Myers-Briggs Equivalents.
  • NSPE – NextStage Predictive Echo scans web server logs and previous web pages to determine how visitors were thinking, determines how much of your audience was getting your message historically, then makes suggestions for your next design efforts.
  • NSSM – NextStage SampleMatch lists psychologic and behavioral traits about visitors to various sites we monitor worldwide. The information is presented in regional, industry, time and gender based formats. This information is useful when designing marketing and creative material for specific audiences. More industries, locations, etc., will be available as we have time and before the tool is launched. The tool updates once every 24 hours.
  • NSVG – NextStage Veritas Gauge uses data from NSOS – NextStage OnSite to determine how many visitors to sites are entering truthful information online to blogs, comments, forms, etc.

Enjoy!

Next Tool Releases from NextStage

I posted this earlier on LinkedIn and Facebook, now for the general public as well…

NextStage AgePersuader

NSAP reports what age groups will respond best to material and in what percentagesThe next tool out of the gate will be The NextStage AgePersuader (NSAP). NSAP is much like NextStage’s GenderPersuader Tool (NSGP). You give it material to analyze, it indicates what age groups are most likely to respond and in what percentages (NextStage’s GenderPersuader Tool indicates which genders will respond and in what percentages). Like all NextStage tools, NextStage AgePersuader is easy to use (enter your bona fides, enter a file or url to be analyzed, hit [Submit] and get your result) and the results are (we think) easy to understand. NextStage Political Analyzer Tool (NSPA) users are familiar with the NSAP output as age persuasion is part of NSPA’s output.

NextStage GeoScope

NSGS reports what age group percentages, gender percentages and RichPersonae exist in a given geographic locationNextStage GeoScope (NSGS) – NSGS is different from most of the other tools in that it derives data from NextStage’s OnSite Tool (NSOS). Some group members may remember conferences where, during my presentations, I presented charts of how different geographic locations were thinking and responding to online material, and how to design navigation to make use of their thinking/decision making/motivational styles (ala NextStage’s PersonaScope Tool (NSPS and aka the {C,B/e,M} matrix). NSGS will do much the same and will include both an age and gender breakdown of online traffic for a given geographic region.

The home page will present a list of geographic locations ET has learned about via NSOS. Entries can vary from something as specific as “Washington, DC” to something as broad as “Scotland” and are dependent on how much traffic has been analyzed from what geographic locations in a given time period (we’re thinking we’ll update it weekly). If you see a geographic location you’re interested in, enter your bona fides, select a geographic location from the list (that’s the only input you give it). NSGS returns the age breakdown (as in NSAP), gender breakdown (as in NSGP) and top four RichPersonae (as in NSPS) from that geographic area.

NextStage GeoScope pulls data from the NextStage OnSite tool (so it’s pulling data from what’s really out there) and you don’t have to be a NextStage OnSite subscriber to use it. Also this is a tagless tool, meaning you don’t need to tag anything to use it.

We’ve been thinking about this tool for a while and some work I’ve been doing with an international design&marketing firm has solidified the idea and need for this tool. For those who’ve been following us for a while, it’s basically an extension/upgrade of our InFocus Reports. The image above is from an InFocus Report. NSGS will be similar.

NextStage BlueSky-Confidence Gauge

NSBC is the NextStage BlueSky Meter and the NSSA Confidence Gauge in a single reportNextStage BlueSky-Confidence Gauge (NSBC) – NSBC is literally the BlueSky Meter and NSSA’s Confidence Gauge in one tool. We’ve decided to combine these two functions into a separate tool based on the number of people who are using the NextStage Political Analyzer Tool (NSPA) simply to get a combined BS-Confidence result. I was explaining these two elements during a training, that some of the results were indicating “This person is extremely confident what they’re writing is BS”, “This person has absolutely no confidence in what they’re writing, hence they believe it is BS”, … and half the class’s eyes lit up, so a separate tool it’ll be.

NextStage Information Designer

NSID determines the best information layout for a given audience, product/service, delivery platform, output medium and outcome combinationThe last tool in this cycle is NextStage Information Designer (NSID). NSID is very similar to NextStage Ad Placement Tool (NSAD) in that it asks some 30 questions regarding the audience, offering, delivery platform, output medium (brochure, webpage, tri-fold, mobile, kiosk, flyer, …) and desired outcome and determines the best outer (“landing” in web terms) and inner information formats (“pages” in web terms) to use to maximize desired results. This is another tool we’ve been thinking about for a while and some recent work has solidified the necessity of it.

On the horizon:
NextStage Advertising Intelligence (NSAI) – The closest online tool to our full desktop TargetTrack tool (an old, out of date brochure can be seen here. TargetTrack will always be available as part of our consulting packages) we’re finishing up some of the equations, at which point Charles, our CTO, will have his folks turn it into working code.

Charles is also busily at work on an “OnSite Lite” that will only have the three most often used reports and be available at a fraction of the cost of our current OnSite tool (or so he tells me) and handle geometrically higher traffic volumes/site.

And that’s the news from Scotsburn and Nashua.

May it be a happy, busy and profitable Autumn for all of us.


Addendum

During conversations yesterday I was reminded that NextStage had several free online tools that could easily be converted to our new store system. One of these, InFocus, is mentioned above as the precursor to NextStage GeoScope.

Some of these other tools will be rolled out in our store system over the coming months. Most will be pulling data from our OnSite system (currently monitoring visitor traffic in over 50 countries). Only data allowed by OnSite clients will be used in these tools. These tools will be tagless, meaning you won’t need to tag your site to use them.

These tools include:

  • NextStage Market Persona (NSMP) – NextStage Market Persona will offer a list of markets (travel, medical, educational, automotive, industrial, legal, … for example). Pick the market area of interest to you and NSMP will report the top RichPersonae (what NextStage PersonaScope reports) for that market. Knowing how the majority of people in a market think, make decisions and what motivates them should be useful when developing creative. We think so, anyway…
  • NextStage Predictive Echo (NSPE) – NextStage Predictive Echo is for clients who don’t want OnSite and still want to make use of NextStage’s Evolution Technology in their online efforts. NSPE reads through traffic logs, the web pages the traffic logs involve and determines how to improve site performance regarding messaging, goals, redesign, etc., are concerned.

There are other tools still on our shelves. We’re learning what tools make sense based on how current users are using the existing tool set. Interested folks can also contact us directly should you need a tool you can’t find elsewhere. Chances are we already have it, something quite close or can make it in record time.

If you think I’m sexy and you like my <BODY>…

Rod StewartOkay, so that’s not quite the way Rod Stewart sang it.

This post is going to be about things being not quite but close to and in a way will follow the tone of The High Cost of Cancelling WorkOutWorld Membership. It’s going to be about the long loong loooooong road to NextStage’s new interface, one that will be going across all our sites in the coming months.

And it begins better than a year ago. I think two years ago at this point… (just looked it up. Yep, two years ago at this point…)

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Long ago I was asked what the new NextStage interface should look like based on the new audiences we were attracting. I came up with a crisp, clean, neat and highly actionable design. There were only three things you could do on that page I designed; Go to the NextStage Analytics site, enter the NextStage Evolution site or become a NextStage Evolution member (and hence gain access to our research and core Evolution Technology (“ET”) itself).1

I drew out the design by hand with lots of explanation of color schemes, fonts, image sizes, logo, …

The NextStage Evolution homepage I designedMy notes and drawings became the image on the right. People loved it when I showed it to them. One marketing maven thought devoting so much screen real estate to transferring people to the NextStage Analytics site (the big blue box on the right of the image) was wasteful. My response was a question, “Do you design such that the site’s goals and the visitor’s goal synch?”2

Umm…cough…nervous smile and furrowed brow… “Yes, of course I do.”

uh Huh.

The NextStage Analytics homepage I designedThe design I came up with recognized NextStage’s two audiences and that those two audiences would rarely sit at the same table together. One audience is marketing folks. Few of those folks really want what NextStage Evolution offers (pure and applied research, access to our researchers, research papers, …) , therefore quickly, cleanly and easily get them over to the site of a company that does offer what they want, NextStage Analytics. That site (also designed by me) is shown on the right. That big center box would hold a video or flash that was activated by the three large buttons on the left, from top to bottom “Learn About”, “What We Do” and “Who We Are”, the three functions we had learned were upmost on the minds of our shifting audience.

NextStage Analytics has a much more markety3 feel to it. The two sites share color schemes and such due to branding, they differ where they have to due to the different audiences they’d serve.

Visually distinctive and highly actionable designs with extremely good visual cues regarding what to do, what goals are achievable and how to achieve them, colors specifically chosen to echo people’s concerns about what we do and guide them past their concerns and into acceptance, all that NextStagey kind of stuff…

These two images — just the images. I drew out and explained the designs, color schemes, action paths, …, remember? — together cost about US$78,000.

People thought NextStage’s consulting prices were high?

I was told not to worry about the cost.

Oh-kay.

I’m skeptical by nature. People are surprised by that. You may have noticed in my blog posts, presentations and such that I tend towards caution, tend not to make a move without lots of evidence, rely on data-driven information, actively seek the counsel of others, …

One of the ways this manifests is that I don’t spend money unless I’m absolutely convinced there will be real, recognizable benefit to doing so. I’m frugal. And for the going on ten-plus years I’ve been doing this, no one ever, anywhere at any time has been able to prove4 to me that money spent redesigning a site consistently, directly, unequivocally, unquestionably and with a better than 83%5 certainty turned into increased revenue from that site.

Ever.

And I’ve asked people. Lots of people. Ten and better years of people.6

And nobody ever gave me an answer. Some…in fact, the majority by close to 100%… said that I shouldn’t ask that kind of question. It had nothing to do with what site (re)design was about.

Say what? What do you mean I can’t equate the cost of a site redesign to revenue from that redesign moving forward? No wonder marketers and analysts don’t get along. And people wonder what planet I’m from?

This whole exercise started with a request to help new visitors migrate to a more comfortable interface. Migrating people between interfaces is something NextStage is very familiar with (it’s covered in Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Theory and Online Applications. I really need to finish that book. In the meantime, go read Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding). Migrating people between interfaces allows past audiences to combine with new audiences in ways that keep both audiences happy and converting.7

And these images work how? Explain to me how these jpgs become a website again, I seemed to have missed that detail the first time

Once past sticker shock I wanted to know “How do you create page templates from these images?”

Well…you don’t. There were no templates. It was all handled by an advanced CMS.

Fair enough. “The CMS system must break up the image somehow, right? I mean, you don’t drop an image of the completed page on the browser each time someone clicks on a different page, do you?”

That’s all handled by the CMS.

“Fine. How?”

I don’t know.

“Where are the docs for the CMS?”

There were no docs for the CMS. It was a custom CMS. You’ll have to trust us.

“Okay, where does the CMS go that’s going to cms our site?”

On your server.

Where it went. And went untouched. By them. For…I’m not sure, I’d have to ask Charles8, but I think it was between 3-6 months.

Oh, they did a few things on it at first — installation alone took over a month because they forgot to make sure all the software they needed was installed before loading the CMS — and then fewer…and fewer…and then…

And during none of this time did we see those beautiful designs turned into operational reality. I did see a “dev” site once with menus that opened when you clicked on the buttons, but no menu item led anywhere and the dev site never got past that homepage.

Which was loaded as a whole image, I think.

I finally asked Charles to look through the CMS data and see if there were any templates, any pages, any anything we could use.

He didn’t find any templates or pages, no…

But he did find contact and business data for all the other customers this group had worked with in the past.

Out went “You’ll have to trust us.” Real quick.

I asked the design firm contact why nothing had been done. “You hurt [the designer’s] feelings.” Not to mention that said designer thought I was a #%&!!MCU**^@! because I kept on asking for results along with the bills.

But wait a second…I hurt the designer’s feelings? How so?

“You didn’t take his suggestions.”

I said to the contact, “But even you admitted you preferred my design to his, that my design moved you at a gut level and in a positive direction. You admitted his didn’t do either, that it was ‘sexy’ but ineffective and non-motivational.” Not to mention that in a standard A/B test9 people stayed on my design and replayed it — the video or flash centerpiece — an average of three times to the ‘sexy’ design’s once and usually moving on before it completed a single run.

I asked, “And how come nobody’s concerned about my feelings? I don’t suppose he could take this as a learning opportunity, could he? God knows I am.”

I was once again told I “shouldn’t ask that kind of question.”10

Next I asked the design group contact to show me how the CMS worked because “This makes it so much easier to manage sites and change features.”

Okay. Fair enough. And I will admit that the new design image did come up on the screen. But only inside the CMS, not in a web browser. I pointed to a button in the image, moved my finger to another part of the screen and said, “Move that over to here.”

That’s not what the CMS is designed to do.

Uh…yeah. Perhaps my emPHAsis was on the wrong sylLAble. Perhaps it wasn’t CONTENTmanagement but contentMANAGEMENT. “Okay. Do something. Anything. Show me how this tool does something that I can recognize as ‘something got done’.”

Five minutes later I was still waiting.

An incredibly complicated tool that…did…nothing…

But dang it sure did cost a lot!11

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

“Charles, that business data you found. Is it still in there?” It was.

“Could you just pull the names for me? Nothing else, nothing more. Just the contact names.” He did.12 I recognized some of the names. Knew them on a friendly level. I called them and asked, “What can you tell me about such-and-such-and-so-and-so CMS?”

The best (meaning, least painful sounding) response was “We had it {note “had it”} for two years and could never get it to work right.” About middle was “We had it {again with the “had it”} on our servers but every time we wanted to change our site we had to go to them because there were no docs and there was no training.”

Great way to insure job security, that. No docs, no training, and by selling a tool that’s so complex to use only the people who built it know how to use it.13

I was quickly realizing there was an unsatisfactory solution in the making. Time to rethink and reassess. I’ve written elsewhere that one of my math mentors once told me, “For god’s sake, if you’re going to make a mistake make it at the beginning. It’ll be easier to find and you’ll have less invested in getting to the result.”

Good advice, that. We were still close enough to the beginning…I mean, there was no operational site and only some jpgs to play with…so I called John, someone I’ve known for years and who designs toys, statues, cars, comics, bookcovers (he did Reading Virtual Minds V1 and he’ll be doing the rest if I ever get them written), just about everything. “John, I need something to bridge the NextStage site design while adding certain other elements towards a new design. Interested?”

Migration Behaviors – Designing for them and Understanding them

First, you don’t have to be a bird, a caribou, a bison or some other animal to take part in migration. Humans were migrating a long, long time ago (see Birth Control’s Long History for an example) and you’ll probably be shocked to learn that the parts of our brains used to move from one geography to another are the same parts of our brains used to move from one interface to another.

Think of it this way; We have all that neural horsepower just waiting for something to do but most of us don’t perform seasonal migrations anymore (people who travel from a summer home to a winter home and back aren’t performing migrations in the ethological or behavioral sense). However, we do regularly migrate cognitive landscapes.

Cognitive landscapes? You probably call them interfaces. And not just software interfaces, but any commonly used human-nonhuman interaction point, place, method or system is an “interface”.

For example, I’m a’ guessing that one of the most obvious human-nonhuman interaction points is hardly given any thought by the vast majority of people reading this post although it was a major stepping stone in each reader’s personal histories and without it, your ability to socialize would be severely handicapped. That interaction point is the toilet.

Bet you never thought of the toilet as an interface, let alone a cognitive landscape. But enter a public or private bathroom and not have the interface you’re use to and whompus! don’t you do some thinking? Some looking around for what you know should be there? Don’t you experience some confusion?

Well, thinking, visual searching and confusion are all aspects of cognition. When you think about yourself doing something in some place you’re familiar with then find yourself needing to do that same something in a place you’re unfamiliar with, you create a image of that familiar place in your mind, match what you know to what you don’t know and mentally “walk” through the familiar while looking around the unfamiliar to figure out where what you need is located.

Have you ever misplaced something and thought back in time to when you last knew you had it or saw it, then mentally moved forward in time to figure out where you last had it?

Congratulations, you were navigating a cognitive landscape.

Have you ever sat down to use an upgrade or completely new version of some once familiar software and had to figure out how to perform a once familiar task, perhaps saying to yourself something like “Hmm…that use to be on this menu. I wonder where they put it now?”14

Congratulations, you were navigating a cognitive landscape.

These cognitive landscapes are everywhere and people involved in usability, product and information design and the like would do well to study them. Have you had to drive an unfamiliar car?

You can do the “major” car function pretty easily — you can drive it to get where you’re going. But what about the lights? Anybody remember when highbeams moved from the floor switch to the steering column? Anybody remember when the horn went from the center of the steering wheel to the steering wheel ring itself (that one didn’t last)? And what about the radio? Or the mirrors?

Cognitive landscapes again and a tribute to the evolution of automotive design. You want to sell cars to lots of people? Make the “major” car functions as standard as possible. You want to sell your cars to lots of people? Make the “minor” car functions just different enough that they’re both distinctive and more easily performed than in your competitors’ models.15

Anyway, moving people from one interface to another is an exercise in helping them migrate from one cognitive landscape to another.

A simple problem that’s already been solved many times in many places.

Here are the migration goals16 as they apply online:

  1. Uniformity across web presences…
  2. While demonstrating individuality among interfaces…
  3. That doesn’t alienate the known audience…
  4. While appealing to the new audience…
  5. And retains a simple, elegant functionality.

By the numbers…

1. Uniformity across web presences

We wanted a “standard” interface for branding purposes. What is the brand we want recognized across all interfaces?


NextStage Evolution (Duh!).

The brand/logo moving forwardSimple enough. Most people recognize the little figure with the concentric circles around its head as the NextStage logo. It’s on our cards, our current website, in our presentations and letterhead. In truth, we’ll probably never get rid of it because we’ve grown quite fond of our little homunculus. But our audience is changing and growing, so change and grow must our logo as well. Especially now that we’re releasing our desktop tools as web-based tools. But let our regular audience know it’s still us while letting our more recent audience know we’re growing and changing with them.

Also, our color has traditionally been blue. The concept of “blue” carries with it many, many messages (regardless of culture) that we find favorable, so stick with that, just bring it out more.

The NextStage KnowledgeShop, where the right to information is the right to be free...or at least inexpensive...so far...So if you’ve seen NextStage’s new storefront (and you should really go check it out. We’re adding items daily right now) or our BlueSky Meter, OnSite, PersonaScope, Sentiment Analysis, and I have no idea how many other tools we’ll have out by the time this post sees the light of day, you’ll quickly recognize that some standardization is at work.

NextStage BSMeter - NSBM. Want to know how much crap they're telling you? Use this little gem...In fact, our new banners are remarkably similar…except in the bright, sunburst yellow, product specific title just left of center on each banner.

NextStage OnSite - NSOS. Learn that yes, people really do think your site sucks and a few simple changes would up your conversions a few hundred percent!And yes, there is a very specific and excellent reason that we used that sunburst yellow color for our product titles. And yes, there’s a specific and excellent reason that our product titles are just left of center in the banner.

NextStage PersonaScope - NSPS. Oh, my gosh, those people really are a??holes!It won’t matter which tool people use, they’ll very quickly know that they’re on a NextStage site and the specific tool that site is serving.

NextStage Sentiment Analysis - NSSA. Yes, that author truly is a sniveling wreck and not only that, but the audience knows it! Yeeha!It would be great if similarity of banners was all that’s required. We also want to make sure that people who use any one tool will be able to quickly and easily use every other tool. Therefore…

A plain, simple and functional menu

…standardize the menu across all sites.17 Use a menu on one product site and you can navigate on all product sites.

2. While demonstrating individuality among interfaces…

Did you read what I wrote above about the banners being different and then only in the name of the product or place?

And why yellow? Sunburst yellow? Just left of center (a clue — when the number of our visitors from south of the equator increases a bit we’ll make our sites sensitive to that and reverse the banner layout)? In a blue background? Sky blue background?

Hmm…

Do some optocular-psychophysics and you learn that the sunburst yellow, sky blue color combination is something the visual system has had millions if not billions of years adapting to (the just left or right of center not so much so and still enough). It creates a calling in the very bases of our psyches such that denied sunlight and blue skies for enough time humans become suicidal, homicidal and worst of all, less likely to convert!

Oh, my goodness no!

But give our psyches sunburst yellow in a deep blue background and it’s Convert, Baby, Convert!

3. That doesn’t alienate the known audience…

Did you read above about using colors that had always been our colors? Or keeping our homunculus mascot and logo? Or our wonderful sense of humor and bon vi vance?

It turned out that our logo is so unique and so identifiable that people often equate it with NextStage’s other predominant brand, me. And even those people who don’t know it’s our logo know it doesn’t belong to any other company they’re aware of.

More to the point, when people who know nothing about us are shown the logo and asked to say something about the company behind it, they always answer that the company has something to do with minds, brain science, neurology, medical devices for measuring or analyzing the brain.

“…measuring or analyzing the brain” “…brain science…” “…minds”.18

Hmm…

As I’ve written in this post before, I’m good with that.

4. While appealing to the new audience…

Did I mention that our traffic volume and conversions have gone up while our bounces have gone down?

5. And retains a simple, elegant functionality.

Four simple menu items for products; Home, Pricing/Order, About, Contact.

Six in the KnowledgeShop and based on what people purchase from us; Home, Books, Papers, Presos, Tools, Trainings.

And so…

Sexy? I’m still not sure what the word means exactly in a design context. I do know that I can’t get more than a few people to a) agree on a definition and that small number decreases rapidly when I ask them to b) determine metrics for it. There is a science that can be thought of as a study of “what is sexy?”, Koinophilia or Koinophology, and yes, we’ve been doing about two years’ worth of research on it (most recently and with many thanks to fellow researcher, Greg Peverill-Conti, who’s supplying us with images to use in the research). Brad Berens presented some of our research to date to RedBull International and they were both interested and intrigued (thanks, Brad!).

What is “sexy”? For that matter, what is “professional”? It’s like the congressional definition of pornography, “Pornography is what I’m pointing at when I say it.” Explain “sexy” and “professional” as some kind of achievable ROI metric, then define action items that you have great surety will achieve that ROI, then demonstrate that ROI has been achieved in such a way that the data actually unequivocally undeniably indicates that what you did caused this result and there’s no two-ways about it, and I’ll believe you.

Until my research indicates something different or better.

People remember extremes, not middleground. Whatever else, NextStage is remembered (and thought of fondly, we hope). NextStage has always designed to be remembered and nobody confuses our brand with anybody else, so we’re good for two.

Designing incredibly well is one of the simplest things to do yet one of the most difficult to achieve because everybody believes they’re an expert while not having repeatable, demonstrable expertise. The end result? Lots of incredibly expensive, difficult to navigate, “sexy” to some while crap to others, debranding and unmemorable websites emerge and are quickly forgotten.

Add to this mix “the more specialized (single purpose) a tool is the more expensive that tool becomes”, add in site design, branding, navigation and conversion and you can go out of business (or close to) before anything is achieved. And if you’re a user who wants a taste for free then know you’re free sample is going to increase the ultimate cost of whatever you’re sampling for free at some point in time and you’ll end up paying for free whether you want to or not.

Addendum

Google, Plain and SimpleOn the day I finished the rough draft of this post I was sent Why Google backed down on home page backgrounds and Remove Google Background Critics Plead by some of our researchers and I was reminded of the person who, commenting on NextStage’s simple interface, said, “Well, it works for Google.”

Yep, sure does. And didn’t they learn something when they went to change it?

Well, pretty much, yes, they did learn something…what’s in Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding.

Gotta love it!


1 – Just so you’ll know, our loyal NextStage Evolution audience would have a link to the old site and be emailed login and passwords to the new site, something described in Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding.
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2 – You can read more about this at Claudiu Murariu’s If you could ask one question to a certain segment of traffic, what segment would you choose and what question would it be? post).

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3 – “markety” as in “Designed to appeal, entice, excite and engage people with a marketing mindset.” You’ll be shocked (Shocked!) to learn our Evolution Technology can determine such things and has been doing so since…oh…2003 or so (see Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, Chapter 4 “Hans Reimar Gets Offered a Job in Sales” for an example of this).

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4 – I will share an incantation with you, one I learned long ago and have used ruthlessly ever since. It is one of the most powerful magic spells known to humankind. It has stopped the high and the low immediately, confounded the minds of the wise and simple and brought strong men and women to their knees in remorse and shame. That incantation is…

Prove It!

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5 – I use “83%” because that’s been ET’s average accuracy since 2001. We’ll be doing a major upgrade to our Language Engines sometime this year (2010) and we expect that accuracy to climb a few notches although how much higher is due to [agonizingly long mathematical discussion deleted by Susan. Bet you’re glad, ain’t’cha?].

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6 – I actually started asking back in the late 1990s, during the dot com boom. I came to think that the dot com bust was due to people thinking a complete redesign meant more revenue when all they could guarantee a complete redesign meant was increased cost for the new design.

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7 – Isn’t it nice that we euphemize it to “converting”? I guess I’m the only person on the planet who wants them to buy buy buy.

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8 – Charles, I guess it’s time to reveal, is NextStage’s CTO. He’s been our little secret for quite a while now and we’ve convinced him to start shining his light. To that end, he’s writing and publishing articles under his own name (see Sample Size and Sampling Error in Social Media for an example).

I’ve known Charles since the early 1990s and in a completely different context than CTOish type things. He was, in fact, one of Evolution Technology’s (ET) earliest adopters and promoters. We’d gotten into the habit of emailing each other regularly and talking on the phone one or two times a week just to chat.

About a year back I was complaining about the fact that a “very good. He’s smart and can do what we need” data designer and programmer had already taken two months, charged US$30k and so far had failed to convert ET’s data system into something robust enough to move from desktop applications to a software as a service model.

I had explained to the “very good, smart” designer/programmer that ET’s data system was an identity-relational model, something that mimicked how the brain-mind recognizes things (as documented in Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History). Yes, I used a traditional entity-relational database technology to do it, but please don’t look for transactional processing, it doesn’t happen.

Two months, US$30k, and nothing. This very good, very smart person even wrote our contact that the design didn’t make sense and couldn’t work. Eventually our contact wrote us “…it was much too complicated that I thought to begin with” but only after first denying the situation for a while. Denial tactics don’t cut it with me much. Have you seen our Principles, specifically #6 – Take Responsibility for Your Actions and #15 – It is not easier to get forgiveness than permission?

So one Sunday, while talking to Charles, I mentioned this.

“Mind if I take a look?”

No, please. Be my guest. Knock yourself out.

An hour later Charles called me back. “I have your database working in SQL. Mind checking to see if it’s returning correct values?”

Within ±2db, it was. How did you do it so quickly?

“Your design had been working fine for better than ten years so it obviously did what it was suppose to do, and I know I don’t know how it’s suppose to work because even you admit you created that d?mned identity-relational model specifically for ET, so I just copied your structure into SQL, made only the necessary changes to make it SQL and tested to see if it worked. It did, so that’s that.”

Since then, Charles has learned more about how identity-relational models and improved my original designs greatly.

Introducing CharlesFor much less than US$30k. In much less than two months. His improvements to my original designs are why what originally took ten minutes now takes about ten seconds.

And if you think I’m scary, say something you can’t prove with facts — lots of ’em — to Charles sometime.

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9 – Yes, we do perform A/B and such tests although only in a greater “A/B” frame — if A is a traditional A/B test and B is NextStage’s methodology, which produces greater ROI?

Well, NextStage does. See Panalysis’ Rod Jacka Said It for a public example of this.

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10 – Note to people who wish to interact with us in the future: We’re RESEARCHERS!!! What we do is ask questions. All the time. And we don’t give up until we get answers that make sense along with all the other answers we’ve ever gotten. That’s probably why we’re such tough sells. We ask questions companies don’t want to answer.

Then again, it’s also probably why we’re so effective. Think of it as a corollary to Holmes’ “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth“, “When you have eliminated all that doesn’t work, whatever remains, however improbable, must work.”

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11 – Have you been following my rants (well, for me they’re rants) about outrageous pricing models? Sentiment Analysis at a Price Everyone Can Afford or Sentiment Analysis Costs How Much?, for example.

Funny how there's always enough to go around, ain't it?This concept that quality can only come at a high price reminds me of purchasing manure spreaders for the farm. Manure spreaders only glisten and shine when they’re on the showroom floor and the salesperson who doesn’t talk about spreading capacity, throw distance, rate and volume either doesn’t know what they’re selling or doesn’t have much respect for who they’re selling to. Manure spreaders can be right pretty when they’re not working or doing anything useful other than standing still doing nothing. They stop glistening and shining after the first use, usually the most junior farmhand is tasked with cleaning it after its used and it won’t work at all without a correctly geared and throttled tractor pulling it.

The big difference between farmers and businesses is that farmers know the manure spreader will get covered with sh?t as soon as it’s used, so buy one based on ability, not on looks.

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Charles's imitation of Barack Obama's 'gazing-at-the-distant-horizons' posture.12 – Did I mention that Charles is incredibly good at doing exactly what I ask, no more, no less, and when he does more he always gives me what I asked for first, then let’s me know there’s more if I want it and because he’s so good at what he does I always want the “more”. And you wonder why we’ve kept him secret? Wouldn’t you like to work with someone who responds to your requests that well and that quickly? Hmm?

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The original NSSA interface13 – One of our NextStage Sentiment Analysis beta testers commented that the original NSSA interface (shown on the right) was completely functional but she couldn’t show it to anybody. Another person offered that she couldn’t show it to management.

Fortunately, I’m good with that. I wanted to know if they ever had trouble using the tool.

“Nope, it works every time.”

It’s not difficult to use?

“Nope. You login, you enter what you want analyzed, you press [ENTER] and that’s it. A few seconds later you get your report.”

Several beta users commented that it was amazingly fast. They thought it would take a while to finish it’s analysis and were surprised when they didn’t even have time to stand up (that’s that “Charles in ten seconds thing” I mentioned earlier).

Are the reports difficult to understand?

Not at all. You explained one over the phone and it was pretty obvious…almost intuitive (well, I should hope so, really. Intuition is one of the ways the non-conscious communicates with the conscious, and as that is what Evolution Technology is geared to do, voila!).

You still using it?

Definitely!”

So…easy to use (check!), understandable (check!), actionable (check!), works every time (check!), still using it (Check!!!) …

I’m good with such things. Handing me a gold hammer equates to telling me you’ve never driven a nail (gold, softer than steel, will deform each time you strike the nail). Yes, a gold hammer looks real pretty in your hand but for heaven’s sake don’t use it. You’ll hurt yourself, you’ll ruin the pretty and expensive hammer and you won’t get squat done.

And besides, NSSA Advanced and Voices versions includes spreadsheets of their analysis. If you need a gold hammer, you can make exactly the one you need because we provide all the parts.

Now about not showing the interface to management…during a training I mentioned that the tool would process any material although we preferred text for now. Somebody asked if it could process emails.

“Yeah, sure.”

And they promptly sent through an email from management.

And I explained the output for them without knowing what they had sent through.

And they were laughing their heads off.

And then they told me it was a management email about the new benefits package.

With Confidence about -90%, Trust at 0%, Destructive at 88%, They’re Not Good People at 80%, …

Lots of people are sending through management and other emails, we learned, so we’re coming out with a tool to specifically read emails. I’ll announce it on Twitter, I’m sure.

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14 – Our constant interviewing of common people continually pulls up interesting tidbits. Regarding redesigns debranding, one individual who was (was!) a loyal FoxNews.com visitor told us “Foxnews.com just redesigned their homepage and lost me for one as a visitor. It’s busy, confusing and takes too much effort to find what I want.”

Way to go, Fox!

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15 – I once owned a very high end BMW. Everybody was impressed by it. Valets in Boston, Montreal, Hartford, New Haven, NYC and Quebec City always commented on what a great car it was, how good looking it was.

The only problem was that the seats fit neither Susan’s nor my butt. We looked great, people took note of our comings and goings and it was one of the most danged uncomfortable rides we ever had. Not to mention that once or twice the car’s computer forgot we were driving, that I was the owner, had entered the correct code and decided to shut itself down anyway.

While we were on the highway.

Going 70mph.

So I’ll go with simple, clean and neat (I now drive a ten year old Jeep Cherokee). I don’t need to look good. Especially if it means I’m going to be uncomfortable and at risk.

All I need to do is get there.

Things any car should be able to do. But having one that can do it easily, economically, reliably and is comfortable to use?

Priceless!

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16 – You can get a primer on migrating users between interfaces in Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding.

I also need to add here that I’ll be posting some of NextStage’s research findings about who prefers “sexy” interfaces and why on The Analytics Ecology. It has been truly fascinating (at least to me) as it deals with why some people prefer “sexy” pages and others don’t. It has little to do with the page and lots to do with people’s feelings and attitude towards what’s offered and who’s doing the offering.

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17 – At one point Charles wanted to know if we’d be designing for all the different devices out there. I asked some NSSA beta testers and our Advisors and the universal response was “Don’t design for everything, you’ll go nuts.”

So when someone contacted me to let me know our menu didn’t show up on their mobile device — everything else worked fine, all the images showed up, but the menu didn’t work — my first thought was that this was a fascinating piece of information that hearkened back to “Don’t design for everything, you’ll go nuts”.

But this wasn’t a design issue, it was a usability issue. The menus not showing up means the site was unusable to this person and lack of usability is a concern.

But wait a second…I have data on how many bounces our new sites are getting and the numbers are decreasing from what they were (our old site had 19% bounce rate. It’s less than that now). This individual, not being able to navigate and leaving the site after one page, would be considered a bounce.

And I have a fairly good idea of the ratio that forms between some one person sharing information and how many non-sharers that person probably represents.

And that number is still lower than our bounce rate, so the number of people coming to our sites on mobile devices that don’t load our menus is…

…small

I checked with some people anyway. That’s the way I am. Overly cautious, highly methodical, a RESEARCHER, remember?

I know quite a few people with mobile devices; LG smartphones, iPhones, ‘Droids, … Were there any other mobile devices having problems? It turned out that menu-appearment was device dependent and the mobile device market is highly in flux. As one person explained to me, “The menus show up. I have to do a “long press” for the drop down to work. But my phone reads that input as wanting to save the image. I can back out of that and then click on the expanded menu though. Many touch-screen phones are just that. Predominately single-touch menu interfaces. Something like a rollover on a typical website may take some finagling to get to. Depending on how the site is coded I’ve had the phone bring up its own menu of the items in the drop down. But that varies from site to site.”

So we’re not going to worry about that right now. When we get lots and lots and lots of people coming to our sites over mobile devices, maybe, and not right now, thanks.

But don’t you love it when the data actually unequivocally undeniably indicates both what to do and how to do it?

I just love that.

Final comment on this thread: this individual suggested NextStage hire a web designer/programmer so we wouldn’t have to worry about things like this in the future.

Thanks. Great suggestion. Getting bit for US$78k once was enough, though.

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Maybe we should start selling these in the KnowledgeShop?18 – We once set forth a bunch of our researchers on a bright summer day, each of them wearing a t-shirt with our little homunculus on the front. A little girl wanted to know what other toys we made but all the adults asked what kind of psychological testing service, counseling agency, opinion research, … we did.

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